The role of genomic DNA methylation in the clonal evolution of cancer cells

Under normal circumstances, cells are prevented from dividing uncontrollably by the presence of tumour suppressor genes (TSGs). In order for cancers to grow, these genes must be turned off, either by DNA mutations or by a process called methylation. Methylation turns TSGs off with the introduction of small chemical “tags”, which prompt the cell to fold up the gene and make its DNA blueprint unreadable. This process is reversible, and certain drugs have been shown to remove methyl tags from DNA. Jonathan Davies’ research focuses on developing techniques to identify the TSGs in lung cancer genomes that may be frequently turned off by the methylation process. He hopes to determine the DNA methylation patterns of cells making up lung tumours and identify potential drug targets. If TSGs can be reactivated with de-methylating drugs, it could provide a new treatment option for halting or eliminating the growth of tumours, leading to better care and increased recovery rates for lung cancer patients.