Turning Back the Clock on Cancer

In health and beauty products, the big trend now is for skin potions that turn back the clock on aging — that restore damaged cells, and revitalize tissue. This same thing — a genetic “fountain of youth” — needs to happen with prostate tissue that’s headed for cancer, before it’s too late. Mark L. Gonzalgo, M.D., Ph.D., is working on that. Gonzalgo, the Nancy and Jim O’Neal Scholar, is one of several Brady scientists studying a process called methylation, which happens to genes. It’s been compared to taking the bullets out of a gun, or changing a key, so it doesn’t fit its lock anymore — basically, a gene that has been methylated doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to.

In the prostate, when certain cancer-fighting genes are methylated, they don’t do their job, and cancer develops. Gonzalgo, using a mouse model he developed, is looking at methylation in several genes, including GSTPi, Timp3, and IgF2. (GSTPi, which has been studied extensively at Hopkins byWilliam G. Nelson, M.D, Ph.D., and others, and has been written about in previous issues of Discovery, is an important cancer-fighter that is knocked out early in prostate cancer.) In innovative research, he is also looking at “demethylating” agents and other genetic turn-back-the-clock drugs that can reverse the process of methylation. “It will be exciting to see if we can affect not only the development of prostate cancer, but even the development of metastatic disease,” he says.

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