Researchers have learned more about the enigmatic function of epigenetics—the study of how genes change—in regulating the growth of tumours.
It is sometimes referred to as “dark matter,” and studies from the Institute of Cancer Research reveal that it may change how cancer is identified and treated.
Additionally, it might result in novel disease-related diagnostics that could be used to better target therapies.
However, this is still a long way off, and research is just getting started.
The DNA code’s structural variations that are passed down across generations come to mind when most people think of genetics.
The mechanism by which these gene changes promote the spread of malignancies has received considerable attention.
But in recent years, researchers have uncovered another phenomenon known as epigenetics that is less clear-cut.
Epigenetics is the study of how a person’s environment and behaviour can influence how their genes function.
Your epigenetics change as you age, as well as as a result of your environment and lifestyle.
Although epigenetics cannot change DNA coding, it can regulate how genes are accessed and are increasingly recognised as having a significant impact on the development of cancer.
We’ve revealed an additional degree of control over how tumours behave, which we liken to cancer’s “dark matter,” according to Prof. Trevor Graham, director of the Centre for Evolution and Cancer at the Institute of Cancer Research in London.
It won’t immediately alter clinical care, but Prof. Graham suggested that it might open the door to the creation of novel treatments.
Only a portion of a person’s cancer is revealed by genetic testing for cancer mutations, such as BRCA, which raises the risk of breast cancer.
The results are presented in two publications published in Nature; the first examined more than 1,300 samples from 30 cases of colon cancer and demonstrated that epigenetic alterations were frequent in malignant cells and aided their expansion more than in other types of cells.
The second paper examined a large number of samples obtained from various locations inside the same tumour. It has been shown that mechanisms other than DNA abnormalities frequently control the growth of cancer cells.
More research is required, according to the researchers, to demonstrate that epigenetic changes directly cause modifications in how malignancies behave.
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