New enzymes might be playing role in early cancer

December 26th, 2008 - 12:12 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 26 (IANS) Researchers have discovered two enzymes that, when combined, could be involved in the earliest stages of cancer. Manipulating these enzymes genetically might lead to targeted therapies aimed at slowing or preventing the onset of tumours.

“We could conceivably reactivate a completely normal gene in a tumour cell - a gene that could prevent the growth of a tumour if reactivated,” said David Jones, professor of oncological sciences at the University of Utah (U-U).

“We believe this could be one of the earliest processes to go wrong in cancer,” he added. “By manipulating these enzymes, we could possibly prevent or slow the onset of tumours.”

The enzymes appear to control an “on-and-off switch” for critical genes that could trigger cancer or numerous other diseases and birth defects.

Using zebrafish that have genetics similar to humans, scientists identified a previously unknown enzyme process that controls the levels of DNA methylation on genes.

“Methylation is a cellular process that is required for healthy cell growth and development, but it can go awry in cancer and diseased cells,” said Brad Cairns, professor of oncological sciences at U-U.

“You can think of DNA methylation as an on-and-off switch. Methylation silences or ’shuts off’ genes that need to be turned off or are not functioning as they should, whereas the reverse process called demethylation ‘turns on’ healthy genes and genes needed at critical times in development,” he said.

In cancer, this methylation process goes haywire, leading to tumour growth. Genes that should be “turned on” are not and vice versa, said a U-U release. The study was published in the Friday issue of Cell.

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