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Promise and Progress - 2 Epigenetics

The Time is Now - Supplement
Issue No. I

2 Epigenetics

By: Valerie Matthews-Mehl
Date: March 1, 2011

It is not only alterations to genes themselves that contribute to the development and spread of cancer, but also alterations to the environment of genes.  Changes to the biochemical environment and packaging of DNA within a cell can silence key tumor suppressor genes. This is known as epigenetic alterations.  Johns Hopkins tops the list of international leaders in the field of epigenetic research.  With 341 papers cited more than 21,000 times, we have outpaced other prestigious institutions including Harvard, the NCI, MIT, the University of Virginia, the University of California, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and UK’s University of Cambridge.

A Personalized Epigenetic Profile for Brain Cancer 
Kimmel Cancer Center researchers, working in conjunction with a national network of cancer researchers, used personalized genetic profiling to predict an improved prognosis in brain cancer patients. The team, led by Stephen Baylin, M.D., identified a set of epigenetic changes in the brain cancer glioblastoma that correlates with better treatment outcomes.  The investigators identified a distinct subset of 24 glioblastomas with heavy areas of methylation, a process in which biochemicals called methyl groups are added to certain DNA sequences.  In addition, the cancers had distinct molecular features, including a high frequency of IDH1 gene mutations. The ability to differentiate brain tumors based on their altered genetic code lays the groundwork for more effective treatment strategies, such as targeted drug treatments.

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