A ground-breaking study, “Comprehensive DNA Methylation Analysis of Benign and Malignant Adrenocortical Tumors” that is also the first genome- wide study characterised the methylation patterns of genes in adrenal cancers to derive a prospective cure for the disease.
In this study, a team of scientists utilised new and advanced technology to study the first ever global picture of adrenal cancers and demonstrated increased methylation of various genes in adrenal cancers which led to a decrease in expression of these genes. What is highly significant is that by treating the cancer with a drug that is currently available, they were able to reverse this process.
DR. Annabelle Fonseca, practicing surgeon at Yale University School of Medicine, and Yale New Haven Hospital, led the study and has been involved in cancer research in the fields of genetics and epigenetics.
Adrenal gland located atop the kidneys is responsible for producing hormones essential for life. Clearly, when tumourous cells attack this gland, the prognosis is poor and in fact, can be very bad despite surgery. Increased methylation of tumour suppressor genes (the body’s natural defense against cancer) causes these genes to “turn off”, which leads to the formation of cancerous cells. By reversing this change, modifications can be made to the important aspects of cancer development, and even cure cancer. The research also has wider implications than just adrenal cancer. The genes thus discovered to be involved in adrenal cancer are also involved in many other cancers including stomach, intestine, pancreas, liver, lung, breast, ovaries, bladder and skin, and the same techniques used for the study may be used to potentially cure cancer in these other organs.
Dr. Fonseca said, “Epigenetics focuses on changes in gene expression that occur without changes in the DNA sequence. Because this is reversible, this is a step where we can actually make a difference. Increased methylation of certain genes causes cancer. By studying these changes in greater detail and modifying them we can potentially cure cancer. It is an exciting time in cancer research and treatment.”
The study was published in Genes, Chromosomes & Cancer.
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