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Understanding Epigenetics

This podcast was originally published by Five to Thrive on February 7, 2019, here.

The study of epigenetics is not only fascinating from a scientific perspective, it’s something that we all should be familiar with. And it’s a game-changer when it comes to reducing the risk of cancer, healing from cancer treatment, and preventing a cancer recurrence. You won’t want to miss this show, especially if you are a “science geek” like we are! This show is broadcast live on Tuesday’s at 7PM ET on W4CS – The Cancer Support Network part of Talk 4 Radio on the Talk 4 Media Network.

Will Cancer Be Cured By 2020?

After cardiac diseases, cancer is the second most leading cause of death worldwide. According to WHO, 20% of deaths are down to cancer while in 2018, there were 18 million new cases, along with 9.6 million deaths were reported. Although the number of surveillance within five years after the diagnosis of cancer is 43 million. In the US alone, 1,688,780 new cases and 600,920 cancer-related deaths were reported in 2017 by National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Researchers have conducted meticulous studies to discover new ways to cure this deadly disease. Currently, the most effective treatment options are radiotherapy, chemotherapy, surgery, and hormonal therapy. But the concern is; how close are experts are in finding more effective treatment options for cancer? Many innovative therapies are beginning to pick up steam to defeat the battle against cancer and ideally having fewer side effects than available options.

Cancer is not just a game of winners and losers [1], these innovations are aimed to address the issues of aggressive treatment, recurrence, irreversible side effects that healthcare providers and patients both face. Below are some updates on the most advanced cancer research breakthroughs that have given us hope for better therapies and prevention methods with less harm.

1.   Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy aims to reinforce existing arsenals in our body to fight against cancer cells. Some types of cancers have the characteristic of duping our immune system. However, with the help of in vivo and in vitro experiments, researchers are exploring new ways to deactivate the protective system of cancer cells.

According to Nature Immunology, macrophages that usually eat up harmful foreign bodies and cellular debris fail to obliterate highly aggressive cancer cells. The reason behind this is the macrophages read out two different signals from cancer cells that are meant to rep-el them for cleaning mechanism. Hence, by blocking the dual signaling pathway, researchers can make white blood cells unable to perform their action.

2.   Therapeutic virus vaccines

Innovative virus vaccines are proven to be a surprising weapon to fight against cancer. In the UK, a team of scientists has succeeded to use reovirus against brain cancer cells [2] while not harming healthy cells. It can pass the blood-brain barrier hence opens up the possibilities towards betterment.

Another milestone is the discovery of dendritic vaccines, in which they are extracted from a person’s body and armed with tumor-specific antigens that make them hunt and smash the cancer cells. Then the dose is injected back to the patient’s body to boost the therapy. Some concerns raise as it may have some pitfalls of damaging healthy tissues.

To address this, researchers from North Carolina have developed a bio-responsive scaffold system to hold on both chemotherapy and immunotherapy with better control on targeting tumor.

3.   Nanoparticle revolution

Stakeholders believe that nanoparticles can be a game-changer in the treatment of cancer.  They are précised and are less invasive to target specific cells without harming the surrounding environment. They can be used to give hyperthermic treatment to make tumors shrink.

Researchers are working on self-regulating nanoparticles to target undifferentiated carcinoma cells without damaging healthy tissues. They can be used to target stem cells to treat the resilience of cancers. They can even be loaded with drugs to prevent recurrence of degenerative diseases [3] and can be beneficial in the treatment of invasive carcinomas such as endometrial and breast cancers.

4.   Starvation strategy for tumors

Starving cancer cells to death is a novel method to kill them. There are many studies onboard that prove multiple ways of cutting off cancer cells nutritional supplies. One effective way is to stop the glutamine supply. It will maximize the oxidative stress and induce cell death. Moreover, blocking the supply of vitamin B2 can halter cancer stem cells. Therefore the strategy can help to avoid the toxic effects of chemotherapeutic agents.

5.   Epigenetics

This refers to the alteration of gene expression to dominate the representative action to affect cells at a biological level. Recent advancements have shown that cancer cells can harbor epigenetic modifications [4] to promote progression and eradication of carcinoma.

Scientists have to channelize the potential without triggering Huntington’s disease, and this is the biggest challenge and concern for them that makes them more hopeful. The knowledge can be utilized to treat stubborn tumors and progress enzyme inhibitors for better success rates.

In a nutshell

Shawn Brad, Research content writer at King Essay [5] believes that researches have given us innovate safe ways to cure cancers and studies are running at a good pace; however, curing every type of cancer is definitely a matter of time. Promising studies immensely give us hope on some technological terms for upcoming years.

It is difficult to say that a single approach is going to work for a variety of needs, while much advanced emerging ways can be useful in treatments. Hence, there are optimistic efforts, that make us claim that cancer can be eradicated quickly, and further depth in knowledge can give us more targeted and précised tools to turn the tables.


Resource Links:

[1] Cancer is not just a game of winners and losers

[2] reovirus against brain cancer cells

[3] prevent recurrence of degenerative diseases

[4] harbor epigenetic modifications

[5] King Essay


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Epigenetics

Why your cancer-creating habits can affect your children (and we’re not talking about second-hand smoke).

It’s hard enough being a parent.  There are no “Parenting for Idiots” books out there.  We just bumble along, trying our best to inoculate our children from our worst selves and influence them with our best.

But like many humans, we may hit the potato chips a bit hard, make exercise the last task on our ever-lengthening “to do” list, and find ourselves doing things we know may not be good for us.

But the science of epigenetics is now telling us that we’re not only influencing our own health but those of our children – genetically.

Here’s how it works.  Epigenetics looks at the way genes express or don’t express themselves as we age.  Those gene changes are thought to be influenced directly as a result of our nutrition and behavior, as well as exposure to toxins in our environment.  In a sense, it’s a hybrid of hereditary disease and lifestyle choices.

An experimental study was done by Stanford University scientist Anne Brunet and colleagues. They noticed that nematodes (a type of worm) had varying lifespans.  Some were exceptionally long-lived and passed that trait through three generations.  Others lived much shorter lives. Yet all the worms, both the old sages and the early departers, were genetically identical.

How is this possible?

The answer lies in epigenetics.  Some of the worms had experienced a change during their lifetimes that affected certain gene expressions that regulated lifespan.  They passed that gene expression through reproduction, even though it had not been part of their initial DNA makeup.

A human version of this can be found in the cases involving the synthetic estrogen compound  diethylstilbestrol (DES).  This was given to women in the 1950’s to prevent miscarriages.  Later it was discovered that DES mothers gave birth to DES affected daughters, increasing their risks for vaginal, breast, and ovarian cancers. Ironically, it also made DES daughters more prone to miscarriage.  The mechanism for this phenomenon is now believed to be epigenetics which facilitated the altered maternal DNA to be passed down to their daughters.

It must be noted the study of epigenetics is in its infancy.  Clear-cut examples of it, like noted above, are rare.  But scientists now have a new understanding that our lifestyle choices and exposure to environmental toxins can affect sperm and egg DNA, and thereby set up new generations for cancer risk in ways that cannot be explained through traditional genetic pathways.


Sources:

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/epigenetics-a-turning-point-in-our-understanding-of-heredity/

http://www.bu.edu/news/2014/09/15/epigenetic-drugs-a-hope-to-treat-cancer-resistance-and-reduce-cancer-relapse/

How Your Lifestyle Can Affect Genes That Cause Cancer

There are two schools of thinking about cancer.  School one says that cancer is a hereditary disease, passed from generation to generation.  A good example of this are women who possess the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation.  Women with this mutation have a 70% lifetime risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer.  Angelina Jolie, for example, lost her mother and aunt to cancer and was subsequently found to have the same mutation.

The second school says that cancer can occur due to lifestyle choices.  A good example of this is cigarette smoking. It is the number cause of lung cancer, linked to 80 – 90% of lung cancer cases.

Recently, researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine have introduced another theory about the development of cancer.  They proposed that there are processes within our cells that activate certain sequences of DNA.  Those processes act as on/off switches for the development of cancer.

This idea is based on the evolving science of epigenetics. Epigenetics looks at the way genes express or don’t express themselves as we age.  Those gene changes are thought to be influenced directly as a result of our nutrition and behavior, as well as exposure to toxins in our environment.  In a sense, it’s a hybrid of hereditary disease and lifestyle choices.

Epigenetics is a normal process in our bodies.  For example, all of our DNA is the same, yet cells develop into liver cells, brain cells, muscle cells, etc. because of the way epigenetics turns on and off different cell processes.  But our lifestyle choices can impact the way genes express themselves as well.

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “Sitting is the new smoking.”  The reason for this is due to research on lifestyle and cancer.  The results of dozens of surveys found that a sedentary lifestyle increases the risks of cancer, specifically colon cancer.  Subjects who spent most of their day sitting were 24% more likely to get colon cancer.  People who watched the most television had a 54% greater risk than those who watched fewer hours.  Uterine cancer was also affected by sitting; women who were the most inactive experienced a 32% great risk.  The female T.V. watchers fared worse; those who watched the most television has a 66% risk of developing uterine cancer.

In all these cases, it’s not the inactivity per se that causes cancer to develop.  It’s the processes of epigenetics that are affected by inactivity that can cause cancer.

It’s a complicated and exciting time.  Next month, more on how unhealthy habits are incorporated into our DNA and passed onto our children.


Sources:

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/lifestyle-choices-could-affect-gene-sequences-that-code-for-cancer/

http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/epigenetic-influences-and-disease-895

http://www.whatisepigenetics.com/fundamentals/2/