April 21, 2017 – Cancer and Entropy


Anchor lead: Cancer cells may utilize epigenetic changes even more than normal cells, Elizabeth Tracey reports

DNA is modified by actual changes in the sequence, known as mutations, and by so-called epigenetic changes, which use certain chemical groups to turn genes on or off. Now research by Andy Feinberg and John Goutsias at Johns Hopkins has shown that these epigenetic changes occur in a specific pattern in normal cells but become very disorganized in a cancer cell.

Feinberg: One of the most important aspects of cancer is that it has a very high degree of variability. One of the main things that really defines what a cancer is is that the epigenetic code becomes very variable, and that allows for tumor cells to have many different properties. We call that tumor cell heterogeneity. So that when the tumor gets exposed to different environments it’s much easier for the tumor cell to adapt to its environment if there’s a certain randomness in which genes are going to be turned on and off. :31

Feinberg says inhibition of this process may be a likely target to reduce a cancer’s ability to adapt and outwit many therapies. At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey.