Promising cancer therapy is based on epigenetics

A novel type of cancer therapy appears dramatically effective in at least some patients, researchers announced Wednesday. The two-drug medication regimen represents a new treatment approach called epigenetic therapy and signals another potential avenue to eradicate tumors. Epigenetics explains molecular characteristics apart from DNA sequence that influence how genes are expressed. While gene mutations are known to cause cancer, epigenetic changes that turn genes on or off also affect disease development.
The new study, published in the journal Cancer Discovery, was a small, phase-2 study of 45 patients facing almost certain death from non-small cell lung cancer. The patients had advanced disease that had spread, and they had failed to respond to several rounds of chemotherapy and other treatments.

The study results still need to be replicated, and many questions remain about how the drug combination affects cells. Azacitidine is thought to block an epigenetic change known as DNA methylation that could turn on genes that fight cancer. Azacitidine is a type of chemotherapy that proved too toxic to use. But, given at very low doses in the study, patients were able to tolerate the medication. At low doses, the drug doesn’t kill cancer cells — the aim of traditional chemotherapy — but instead appears to coax genes to switch on to fight cancerous cells. Read more…

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