A Johns Hopkins researcher, with colleagues in Sweden and at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, suggests that the traditional view of cancer as a group of diseases with markedly different biological properties arising from a series of alterations within a cell’s nuclear DNA may have to give way to a more complicated view. In the January issue of Nature Reviews Genetics, available online Dec. 21, he and his colleagues suggest that cancers instead begin with "epigenetic" alterations to stem cells.
"We’re not contradicting the view that genetic changes occur in the development of cancers, but there also are epigenetic changes and those come first," says lead author Andrew Feinberg, M.D., M.P.H., King Fahd Professor of Medicine and director of the Center for Epigenetics in Common Human Disease at Johns Hopkins.
Cells affected by epigenetic changes look normal under a microscope at low levels of resolution, Feinberg says, "but if you look carefully at the genome, you find there are subtle changes." By tracking these changes, he suggests, doctors potentially could treat people before tumors develop in much the same way as cardiologists prescribe cholesterol-lowering drugs to help prevent heart disease.
Joanna Downer | EurekAlert!
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