FEB 08, 2016 9:43 AM PST

New DNA Hypermethylation Signature Found in 5 Types of Cancers

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
Scientist uncover new cancer methylation mark, diagnostic test possible

According to researchers from the National Institute of Health (NIH), a simple blood test may soon be able to detect five types of cancer - colon, lung, breast, stomach and endometrial - in the early stages. This diagnostic capability relies on a novel methylation signature present in the tumor DNA.
 
DNA methylation is an epigenetic process by which chemical methyl groups are added on to DNA bases. Cells use this mechanism to efficiently lock genes in the “off” position and silence gene expression. High methylation (hypermethylation) is correlated with lower gene activity. Conversely, genes that have low methylation signatures (hypomethylated) are more highly expressed.
 
 
In 2013, the research team at the NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) originally reported a unique methylation mark around a gene known as ZNF154 that was only present in tumors. The function of ZNF154 is not yet known, though researchers suspect it may play a role in derailing normal cellular processes.
 
"No one in my group slept the night after that discovery," said Laura Elnitski, Ph.D., a computational biologist and senior leader of the study. "We were so excited when we found this candidate biomarker. It's the first of its kind to apply to so many types of cancer."
 
Since that publication, the team has worked hard to unmask the same methylation marks in colon, lung, breast, stomach and endometrial cancers. They now reported that the telltale methylation mark around ZNF154 consistently showed up in all the different tumors types and subtypes. Furthermore, the methylation mark was highly elevated, making detection possible even at low levels.
 
In the next phase, the researchers will screen blood samples from patients to measure the accuracy of detection from circulating tumor DNA. Computer simulation data with circulating tumor DNA already showed that the abnormal methylation mark could be detected even when researchers diluted 1% tumor DNA with 99% normal DNA materials. They will also have to work out the specificity and sensitivity of the test, assuring that the assay doesn’t miss the cancer or give false positive results.
 
"Finding the methylation signature was an incredibly arduous and valuable process," said NHGRI Scientific Director Dan Kastner, M.D., Ph.D. "These findings could be an important step in developing a test to identify early cancers through a blood test."

 If successful, the test has the potential to diagnose many types of cancer without the need to have prior knowledge of the cancer. This could facilitate detection of cancer at earlier stages, allowing faster and more efficient treatments for the patients. Additionally, the non-invasive test could allow doctors to monitor patients at high risk for developing cancer, or track cancer’s activity during treatment.

"We have laid the groundwork for developing a diagnostic test, which offers the hope of catching cancer earlier and dramatically improving the survival rate of people with many types of cancer," Dr. Elnitski said.

Additional sources: EurekAlert!
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
NOV 27, 2019
Health & Medicine
NOV 27, 2019
3D-printed cell traps catch cancer cells on the move
The early stages of metastasis, or the spread of cancer cells from the primary tumor site, are incredibly difficult to d ...
DEC 02, 2019
Cannabis Sciences
DEC 02, 2019
Scientists List Several Reasons Not to Use Marijuana During Pregnancy
An estimated 16 percent of women use marijuana on a daily basis while pregnant, and a large majority of women do so with ...
DEC 23, 2019
Technology
DEC 23, 2019
Can Artifical Intelligence Detect Leukemia?
Artificial intelligence has always been a hot topic of discussion in the medical sciences with a whirlwind of applicatio ...
FEB 07, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
FEB 07, 2020
New diagnostic technology uses levitating proteins
Intrinsic biophysical properties of proteins hold valuable clues about how they function and their role in disease. Take ...
FEB 22, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
FEB 22, 2020
Harmful Algal Blooms
Algae is an essential plant-like organism. They contribute to the diet of some marine animals and supply necessary oxyge ...
APR 29, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
APR 29, 2020
Move and Detect : Diagnosis of Neonatal Sepsis Using Fluorescent Micromotors
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sepsis occurs when the body’s response to an infection injures i ...
Loading Comments...