According to a new report published in the BJC (British Journal of Cancer), a molecular "post-it note" added to breast cancer genes could identify the risk that the disease will spread in patients. Cancer research scientists from Imperial College London have seen that high levels of molecular modification, called methylation, on a gene called CACNA2D3, were associated with spread of disease in breast cancer patients.
Acting like a post-it note on the DNA telling the cell to switch the genes off, methylation is a cell process that adds onto DNA to avoid the gene's directions from being given. The gene CACNA2D3 suppresses tumor genes and prevents cancer.
Methylation in breast cancer cells higher than healthy breast cellsBreast cancer cells are highly methlyated and not methlyated in healthy breast cells. This study shows that the development of methyl groups on the genes inhibits the protection against cancer development. This is the first time this gene has been linked to breast cancer, although it has been known to be faulty or missing in lung, renal and other cancers.
Lead author of this study, Dr Carlo Palmieri, Cancer Research UK scientist at Imperial College London, said:
"Our research suggests that methyl groups can muffle the messages given by the CACNA2D3 gene - blocking its potential protective effect against breast cancer.
Methylation of the gene could be used to flag up breast cancer patients who have a greater chance of the disease spreading - helping doctors decide what treatment plan would be most effective."
In an Abstract in the same journal, the authors wrote:
"CCAAT/enhancer binding protein delta CpG island methylation is associated with metastasis in breast cancer. Detection of methylated CEBPδ genomic DNA may have utility as an epigenetic biomarker of primary breast carcinomas at increased risk of relapse and metastasis."The authors say the next step will be to carry out larger human studies to find out whether analyzing methylation of the gene might be medically useful.
EpigeneticsThe study of DNA modifications, or the changing of how a gene behaves, is called epigenetics. This particular study is an exciting start to an important new area of research. It analyzes how changes made to DNA can control genes by switching them on or off and to what extent.
Understanding what effect epigenetics has on cancer cells has great potential. It could essentially provide crucial answers on how to treat a disease and in turn save lives.
Written by Kelly Fitzgerald