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March 22, 2006

Emerging Technologies: Epigenetics

Sequencing the human genome was far from the last step in explaining human genetics. Researchers still need to figure out which of the 20,000-plus human genes are active in any one cell at a given moment. Chemical modifications can interfere with the machinery of protein manufacture, shutting genes down directly or making chromosomes hard to unwind. Such chemical interactions constitute a second order of genetics known as epigenetics.

In 1998, Alexander Olek founded Berlin-based Epigenomics to create a rapid and sensitive test for gene methylation, a common DNA modification linked to cancer. The company's forthcoming tests will determine not only whether a patient has a certain cancer but also, in some cases, the severity of the cancer and the likelihood that it will respond to a particular treatment.

Philip Avner, an epigenetics pioneer at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, says that Epigenomics' test is a powerful tool for accurately diagnosing and understanding cancers at their earliest stages. "If we can't prevent cancer, at least we can treat it better," says Avner.

From: Techology Review

Read more about epigenetics: Epigenetics Changes in Cancer Cells

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