Corrada Bravo Co-Authors Study on the Telltale "Fingerprint" Cancer Leaves on DNA

Tue Aug 26, 2014

Héctor Corrada Bravo, an assistant professor of computer science with appointments in UMIACS and the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, recently co-authored a paper on research that detects a telltale signature of widespread changes to the so-called epigenome in cancer.

Corrada Bravo and researchers from Johns Hopkins University and Harvard University—in a paper published online today in Genome Medicine—say they have found widespread and distinctive changes in a broad variety of cancers, regardless of their stage or type.

Specifically, they have identified chemical marks known as methyl groups attached to DNA, which help govern whether genes are turned “on” or “off,” and ultimately how the cell behaves. Such reversible chemical marks on DNA are known as epigenetic, and together they make up the epigenome.

The research team took DNA samples from breast, colon, lung, thyroid and pancreas tumors, and from healthy tissue, and analyzed methylation patterns on the DNA.

They were able to determine that cancers can easily turn genes "on" or "off" as needed. For example, they often switch off genes that cause dangerous cells to self-destruct while switching on genes that are normally only used very early in development and that enable cancers to spread and invade healthy tissue.

The study was funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute, the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, and the National Center for Research Resources.

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