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Promise and Progress - 'Switched-Off' Genes May Put First Chink in Colon Cell's Anti-Tumor Armor

Faces of Childhood Cancer

'Switched-Off' Genes May Put First Chink in Colon Cell's Anti-Tumor Armor

Date: June 1, 2004

Nature Genetics, March 14, 2004

Scientists have uncovered a family of genes that are “switched off,” potentially contributing to the earliest cellular changes leading to colon cancer. The genes, called SFRPs, help control cell-growth genes, but when turned off, this protection is lost and early events in colon cancer initiation, occurring even before the formation of colon polyps, can begin. Study director Stephen Baylin, M.D., Ludwig Professor of Oncology, says the genes are altered through a reversible process called methylation and suggests that certain natural compounds, including green tea, as well as synthetic compounds like aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, may block methylation and reactivate the genes. “Because its mutation occurs so early in the steps to tumor formation, SFRP is a great target for preventing cancer,” says Baylin. 

This research is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.