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Epigenetics Could Lead to Better Cancer Diagnosis

DNA methylation is an epigenetic process that occurs when a methyl group binds to one of DNA’s four bases, cytosine. These changes are responsible for controlling the activity of genes by turning them off.

DNA methylation patterns differ dramatically between healthy and diseased tissue and thereby can serve as biomarkers, opening a window into earlier detection of disease. In a special issue of the journal Disease Markers published in February 2007, ten articles explore the details and challenges of cancer epigenetics.

Writing in the editorial, Guest Editor Martin Widschwendter (Institute for Women’s Health, University College London) emphasizes that, “The concept of early detection of tumours before they spread and become incurable, represents one of the most important challenges in reducing the impact of the growing burden of cancer worldwide…Altered patterns of DNA methylation can be detected with high sensitivity, potentially providing us with diagnostic, prognostic and predictive information, and can be reversed by appropriate drug treatment. These possibilities make cancer epigenetics a most exciting field of current translational research.”

Four articles document different epigenetic alterations in lung, prostate, ovarian and colorectal cancer. The observation of abnormal methylation in the RASSF1A gene in a broad spectrum of tumors is reviewed by Luke B. Hesson, Wendy N.Cooper and Farida Latif. Heidi Fiegl and Karim Elmasry review how DNA-methylation can form the basis for diagnostics and therapeutic monitors.

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Epigenetic silencing of the MGMT gene encoding a DNA repair enzyme was recently found to be of predictive value in a randomised clinical trial for newly diagnosed glioblastoma, reviewed by Peter Hau, Roger Stupp and Monika E. Hegi. The possibility of using epigenetic changes in normal tissue to predict an individuals risk of developing cancer is reviewed by Hengmi Cui.

Biostatisticians Todd A. Alonzo and Kimberly D. Siegmund provide an excellent review about various statistical approaches to analysis of the wealth of information gained by DNA methylation studies.

Finally, Craig A. Cooney discusses the recent emergence of “epigenetic epidemiology” where the causes of DNA methylations might be understood and used to direct epigenetics toward improved health and longevity.

Epigenetic Markers
Special issue of Disease Markers, Volume 23, Issues 1-2
Guest Editor: Martin Widschwendter
Table of Contents
5-methylcytosine – the fifth base of DNA: The fifth wheel on a car or a highly promising diagnostic and therapeutic target in cancer?

Martin Widschwendter

The Role of DNA Methylation in the Development and Progression of Lung Adenocarcinoma

Keith M. Kerr, Janice S. Galler, Jeffrey A. Hagen, Peter W. Laird, and Ite A. Laird-Offringa

Epigenetic markers for molecular detection of prostate cancer
Vera L. Costa, Rui Henrique & Carmen Jerónimo
Epigenetic Markers and Response to Chemotherapy in Cancer
Gordon Strathdee
DNA Methylation in Colorectal Cancer – impact on screening and therapy monitoring modalities ?

Marion Zitt, Matthias Zitt and Hannes M. Müller

The role of Rassf1a methylation in cancer
Luke B. Hesson, Wendy N.Cooper and Farida Latif
Cancer diagnosis, risk assessment and prediction of therapeutic response by means of DNA methylation markers

Heidi Fiegl and Karim Elmasry

MGMT methylation status : the advent of stratified therapy in glioblastoma?
Peter Hau, Roger Stupp, and Monika E. Hegi
Loss of imprinting of IGF2 as an epigenetic marker for the risk of human cancer
Hengmi Cui
Statistical methods for evaluating DNA methylation as a marker for early detection or prognosis

Todd A. Alonzo and Kimberly D. Siegmund

Epigenetics – DNA-Based Mirror of Our Environment?
Craig A. Cooney

Astrid Engelen | alfa
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