Posted by Amy Maxmen, PhD Science Writer for the Journal of Experimental Medicine
Shoot at methylated sites, recommends Peter Jones from the
University of Southern California
With whole genomes at our disposal, scientists have identified chromosomal areas of epigenetic modification prevalent in cancer. Jones displays a couple of diagrams illustrating these identified chromosomes and points out where the methylation of some lysine groups has silenced genes, leading to cancerous cell proliferation.
Drugs to flip this methylated switch to reactivate silenced
genes were at first inadvertently invented decades ago. One such demethylating
drug is now in Phase III clinical trials for the treatment of myeloid leukemia
and the results look promising.
Yet without methylation in moderation, we would surely die. For example, women would be overwhelmed by an excess of gene expression coming from their second X chromosome. Another audience member speaks my thoughts as he asks about side effects of epigenetic therapy. After a pause, Jones nods, “This does remain an issue.” For now, he says, these drugs would only be given to people in a life-threatening situation.