Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


'Epigenetic' concepts offer new approach to degenerative disease

In studies on cancer, heart disease, neurological disorders and other degenerative conditions, some scientists are moving away from the "nature versus nurture" debate, and are finding you're not a creature of either genetics or environment, but both - with enormous implications for a new approach to health.

The new field of "epigenetics" is rapidly revealing how people, plants and animals do start with a certain genetic code at conception. But, the choice of which genes are "expressed," or activated, is strongly affected by environmental influences. The expression of genes can change quite rapidly over time, they can be influenced by external factors, those changes can be passed along to offspring, and they can literally hold the key to life and death.

According to Rod Dashwood, a professor of environmental and molecular toxicology at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, epigenetics is a unifying theory in which many health problems, ranging from cancer to cardiovascular disease and neurological disorders, can all be caused at least in part by altered "histone modifications," and their effects on the reading of DNA in cells.

"We believe that many diseases which have aberrant gene expression at their root can be linked to how DNA is packaged, and the actions of enzymes such as histone deacetylases, or HDACs," Dashwood said. "As recently as 10 years ago we knew almost nothing about HDAC dysregulation in cancer or other diseases, but it's now one of the most promising areas of health-related research."

In the case of cancer, tumor suppressor genes can cause cancer cells to die by acting as a brake on unrestrained cell growth. But too much of the HDAC enzyme can "switch off" tumor suppressor genes, even though the underlying DNA sequence of the cell – its genetic structure – has not been changed or mutated. If this happens, cells continue to replicate without restraint, which is a fundamental characteristic of cancer development.

The good news – for cancer and perhaps many other health problems – is that "HDAC inhibitors" can stop this degenerative process, and some of them have already been identified in common foods. Examples include sulforaphane in broccoli, indole-3-carbinol in cruciferous vegetables, and organosulfur compounds in vegetables like garlic and onions. Butyrate, a compound produced in the intestine when dietary fiber is fermented, is an HDAC inhibitor, and it provides one possible explanation for why higher intake of dietary fiber might help prevent cancer.

"Metabolism seems to be a key factor, too, generating the active HDAC inhibitor at the site of action," Dashwood said. "In cancer cells, tumor suppressors such as p21 and p53 often become epigenetically silenced. HDAC inhibitors can help turn them on again, and trick the cancer cell into committing suicide via apoptosis.

"We already know some of the things people can do to help prevent cancer with certain dietary or lifestyle approaches," Dashwood said. "Now we're hoping to more fully understand the molecular processes going on, including at the epigenetic level. This should open the door for new approaches to disease prevention or treatment through diet, as well as in complementing conventional drug therapies."

Dashwood, who is also head of LPI's Cancer Chemoprotection Program, will be presenting some of this research in a talk titled "Metabolism as a key to HDAC inhibition by dietary constituents," at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology's annual meeting. The talk will take place in Anaheim Convention Center Ballroom E on Wednesday, April 28 at 1:30 pm PST.

OSU scientists recently received an $8.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to explore these issues, making the LPI program one of the leaders in the nation on diet, epigenetics, and cancer prevention. The positive findings of laboratory research are already being converted to placebo-controlled human intervention trials on such health concerns as colon and prostate cancer, which are among the most common cancers in the United States.

OSU scientists have published a number of studies on these topics in professional journals such as Cancer Research, Cancer Prevention Research, Carcinogenesis, and Seminars in Cancer Biology. Among the most recent findings is that naturally occurring organoselenium compounds in the diet might prevent the progress of human prostate and colon cancer through an HDAC inhibition mechanism.

"Some therapeutic drugs already used for cancer treatment in the clinical setting probably work, at least in part, because they are acting as HDAC inhibitors," Dashwood said. "And what's most intriguing is that HDAC inhibition may affect many degenerative health issues, not just cancer. Heart disease, stroke, bipolar disorder, and even aging may all have links to HDAC/histone alterations.

"In the future, a single HDAC inhibitor conceptually could have benefits for more than one degenerative disease problem."

NOTE TO EDITORS: The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology annual meeting is part of the Experimental Biology 2010 conference that will be held April 24-28, 2010 at the Anaheim Convention Center. The press is invited to attend or to make an appointment to interview Dr. Dashwood. Please contact Nicole Kresge at 202.316.5447 or

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology ( is a nonprofit scientific and educational organization with over 12,000 members. Founded in 1906, the Society is based in Bethesda, Maryland, on the campus of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. The Society's purpose is to advance the science of biochemistry and molecular biology through publication of scientific and educational journals: the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Molecular & Cellular Proteomics, and the Journal of Lipid Research, organization of scientific meetings, advocacy for funding of basic research and education, support of science education at all levels, and promoting the diversity of individuals entering the scientific workforce.

Nicole Kresge | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>