Research highlight

Cancer: Epigenetic diagnosis of disease progression

Nature Communications

November 14, 2012

Patients with different clinical stages of colon cancer can be distinguished by measuring promoter methylation of a few selected genes, reports a study published in Nature Communications this week. The identification of these marker genes could lead to the development of more accurate non-invasive methods for the differential diagnosis of colon cancer.

So called epigenetic changes, such as methylations in promoter regions of genes, determine whether genes are turned on or off. Various colon cancer-associated genes are known to be activated by epigenetic changes. Shu Wang and colleagues measured promoter methylation of ten colon cancer-associated genes in patient tissue samples. They report subsets of 2-3 individual marker genes that identify patients who have, or don’t have, colon cancer. These markers can also be used to distinguish between patients with early or advanced-stage colon cancer.

The authors propose that this cumulative analysis of promoter methylation gives more accurate diagnostic results than the analysis of single promoters, which is more commonly carried out.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms2209

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