[ASC-media] Media release: bid to reverse cancer

JCA Media jcamedia at starclass.com.au
Sun Nov 27 10:08:38 EST 2005

Sir Mark Oliphant Conferences 2005: Epigenetic Regulation of Development & Disease


Cancer takes over the 'suburbs'

The key to treating and even reversing cancer may lie with large regions of DNA that are 'switched off' in cancerous cells, Australian researchers believe.

Associate Professor Susan Clark of Sydney's Garvan Institute of Medical Research will present new findings from research into the epigenetic influence of cancer on the human genome at the Sir Mark Oliphant Conference on Epigenetic Regulation of Development and Disease being held in Canberra.

"We have found that cancer does not just silence specific genes, but can black out entire regions of DNA," she says. 

Her team's findings reveal that large regions of the human genome are silenced in cancerous cells. These deactivated zones - referred to as 'suburbs' - may contain the genes which normally prevent the development of tumors.

"For those vital genes, which protect us from cancer, it may be a case of being in the wrong neighbourhood at the wrong time," says Clark. 

The 'suburbs' of genes are silenced by a biochemical process known as methylation. This process causes effected genes to effectively 'switch off'. The methylation, or silencing, of genes, is a key process being studied in epigenetics.

Until recently, most research focused on the mutations that occur in the DNA of cancerous cells, but epigenetic studies such as Professor Clark's are now revealing that these mutations may only be one part in the development of cancers.

In order to study the equally-important epigenetic changes the Garvan team observed where methylation was taking place across the whole genome or complement of human genes.

"We weren't expecting to find such huge areas" states Clark. "Usually studies focus on whether specific genes are being silenced by cancer - but our study shows that the effects are on a much broader scale."

It is not yet clear whether these large regions are specifically targeted by the cancer, or occur at random. However, similarities between various types of cancers and the regions that are silenced may reveal the important influence of genes in these areas. 
It is probable that these sets of silenced suburbs contain numerous tumor suppressor genes - the genes which stop us from getting cancer. 

By identifying areas of our DNA that are commonly silenced and the genes they contain, the Garvan team hopes to improve future cancer treatments.

"Using epigenetics, our hope is that in the future we may be able to reverse the modifications which take place in cancerous cells and return them to their normal cell function" say Prof. Clark.

The potential of this rapidly advancing field of science is being discussed at the Sir Mark Oliphant Conference on Epigenetic Regulation of Development & Disease, at the CSIRO Discovery Centre in Canberra, Australia from November 29-December 2, 2005.

Media are invited to attend and interview participants.

More information:
Susan Clark: ph 0402 078 501 or s.clark at garvan.org.au, 
Alex Pelvin, CSIRO, ph 02 6246 5485 or 0409 937 124
Dr Jean Finnegan, CSIRO via 0422 208 068
Prof. Julian Cribb, 0418 639 245


Date: November 27, 2005

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