Molecular Signatures of Cancer
Abstract: Cancer is an important public health concern in the western world, responsible for around 25% of all deaths. Although improvements have been made in the diagnosis of cancer, treatment of disseminated disease is inefficient, highlighting the need for new and improved methods of diagnosis and therapy. Tumours arise when the balance between proliferation and differentiation is perturbed and result from genetic and epigenetic alterations.Due to the heterogeneity of cancer, analysis of the disease is difficult and a wide range of methods is required. In this thesis, a number of techniques are demonstrated for the analysis of genetic, epigenetic and transcriptional alterations involved in cancer, with the purpose of identifying a number of molecular signatures. Pyrosequencing proved to be a valuable tool for the analysis of both point mutations and CpG methylation. Using this method, we showed that oncogenes BRAF and NRAS, members of the Ras-Raf-MAPK pathway, were mutated in 82% of melanoma tumours and were mutually exclusive. Furthermore, tumours with BRAF mutations were more often associated with infiltrating lymphocytes, suggesting a possible target for immunotherapy. In addition, methylation of the promoter region of the DNA repair gene MGMT was studied to find a possible correlation to clinical response to chemotherapy. Results showed a higher frequency of promoter methylation in non-responders as compared to responders, providing a possible predictive role and a potential basis for individually tailored chemotherapy. Microarray technology was used for transcriptional analysis of epithelial cells, with the purpose of characterization of molecular pathways of anti-tumourigenic agents and to identify possible target genes. Normal keratinocytes and colon cancer cells were treated with the antioxidant N-acetyl L-cysteine (NAC) in a time series and gene expression profiling revealed that inhibition of proliferation and stimulation of differentiation was induced upon treatment. ID-1, a secreted protein, was proposed as a possible early mediator of NAC action. In a similar study, colon cancer cells were treated with the naturally occurring bile acid ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) in a time series and analysed by microarray and FACS analysis. Results suggest a chemopreventive role of UDCA by G1 arrest and inhibition of cell proliferation, possibly through the secreted protein GDF15.These investigations give further evidence as to the diversity of cancer and its underlying mechanisms. Through the application of several molecular methods, we have found a number of potential targets for cancer therapy. Follow up studies are already in progress and may hopefully lead to novel methods of treatment.
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