Health Blog

Possible new angle for cancer treatment

A cellular process tested in mice may hold the answer to fighting cancer in humans.

December 11, 2007

Interfering with a cellular process known as methylation may become the basis for a new approach to treating cancer, say authors of a new study from the Whitehead Institute for Biological Research at MIT.

Methylation is a natural process where enzymes in the cell attach a chemical group to the stretch of DNA comprising a gene and this blocks the gene from being converted into a protein. Scientists have speculated that hypermethylation occurs in cancer cells and shuts down genes that would normally help suppress tumors.

When the researchers induced hypermethylation in mice prone to colon cancer, their number of colon tumors increased. Lead author, Heinz Linhart, thinks that if it is possible to stop hypermethylation in cancer cells, it would reactivate the tumor-suppressor genes and stop tumor growth.

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