Sunday, July 3, 2011

Discoveries in Mitochondria Open New Field of Cancer Research

A whole new field of epigenetics research from Virginia Common Wealth University Massey Cancer Center has been discovered with the possibility of developing future gene therapies to treat cancer as well as other age-associated diseases. Epigenetics refers to the process that controls which genes get expressed in the nucleus of a cell, ultimately determining that cell's biological characteristics.

Shirley M. Taylor, Ph.D., researcher at VCU Massey Cancer Center and associate professor in the VCU Department of Microbiology and Immunology at VCU School of Medicine, was a graduate student when her research helped establish the field of epigenetics. Many years later Dr. Taylor and her colleagues have expanded their knowledge from understanding enzymes are in existence not only in the nuclei but also in the mitochondria.

All of an organism's hereditary information exists in two distinct genomes of all mammal's cells. Taylor's study found two DNA modifications in the mitochondrial genome. From the article, "In diseases such as cancer, epigenetic control is lost," says Taylor. "Genes that should be switched on are switched off and vice versa, leading to uncontrolled growth. Our research indicates that errors in gene expression could be unfolding in mitochondria, possibly contributing to loss of mitochondrial function typical of cancer and a host of other age-related diseases." One of the main areas of focus for Taylor and her team is trying to determine whether epigenetic control is a factor contributing to defects that lead to serious illnesses. Understanding the impact drugs have on gene expression in the nucleus and discovering beneficial ways of using it for the mitochondria would be huge.

It is always interesting to me when new studies and discoveries come out about steps taken towards cancer research. Cancer affects millions of people worldwide every year and is the world's leading cause of death. According to the World Health Organization, "Deaths from cancer worldwide are projected to continue rising, with an estimated 12 million deaths in 2030." Although the cure for cancer or other serious age related diseases may not be discovered shortly, it still gives hope that new research in the field of Microbiology is taking strides toward making that a reality one day!


Virginia Commonwealth University (2011, June 21). Discoveries in mitochondria open new field of cancer research. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 3, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/06/110620161306.htm

L. S. Shock, P. V. Thakkar, E. J. Peterson, R. G. Moran, S. M. Taylor. DNA methyltransferase 1, cytosine methylation, and cytosine hydroxymethylation in mammalian mitochondria. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; 108 (9): 3630

No comments:

Post a Comment