Brussels, 21 Apr 2005
A team of scientists from the University of Liverpool in the UK, in collaboration with a Belgian genomics start-up and a UK genetic analysis company, has developed a ground-breaking technology capable of detecting cells in the lung that are likely to become cancerous.
The researchers use a DNA analysis technique called methylation profiling to identify molecular markers in early lung cancer. Methylation is a genetic mechanism that causes a change in the DNA structure of particular genes. Methylation alters the control of the gene, which leads to the gene switching on and off at the wrong time in the cell cycle and causes a normal cell to become a cancer cell.
'This is of particular importance in lung cancer research, as the changes in methylation status of the DNA are considered to be a marker for early disease detection,' says Lakis Liloglou, head of Liverpool University's Lung Cancer Molecular Biomarkers Group.
'Even though DNA methylation analysis has been a previous area of research, prior techniques had a range of technical limitations that prevented them from being of any real clinical use. This newly developed method overcomes many of the problems and combines the sensitivity of high-powered microscopes with the capability of analysing many samples at a time,' Dr Liloglou adds.
Part of the team's research involved analysing the methylation profile of 47 genes in lung specimens from 48 patients with a history of smoking. The genes selected were known to be involved in cancer development and the researchers were able to correctly determine the relationship between gene methylation in normal and tumour tissue. This discovery will, in the long term, be of enormous value in identifying high-risk individuals.