Science

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Overview

In every cell in the body there are chemical reactions that switch genes on and off. This gene control mechanism is called epigenetics. We know that cancer can develop or grow because of abnormal chemical (epigenetic) reactions. There are exciting drugs in development that can target epigenetic changes to ‘re-programme’ the rogue cancer cell. The VEG brings together internationally recognised epigenetic experts in Victoria to undertake collaborative research. This research will result in clinical trials of ‘epigenetic drugs’ for patients with blood cancers incorporating detailed laboratory studies on how these new drugs work and how to use them better.

 

Epigenetics

Epigenetics refers to cell-heritable mechanisms that change patterns of gene expression without altering DNA sequence. The reversibility of epigenetic ‘marks’ make them attractive targets for cancer therapies. Two major areas of clinical epigenetic research to-date have been DNA methylation and histone modification.

The success of DNA methyltransferase inhibitors (DNMTi) such as azacitidine (AZA) and Histone Deacetylase inhibitors (HDACi) is proof-of-concept that epigenetic targeting is effective. Development of these agents has resulted in various epigenetic therapies achieving formal regulatory registration for prescribing across the globe. Nonetheless, there is a need to build upon the clinical successes of current treatments to improve patient outcomes.

Blood Cancers

Tumours of the haematopoietic and lymphoid tissues  are tumors that affect the blood, bone marrow, lymph, and lymphatic system. As those elements are all intimately connected through both the circulatory system and the immune system, a disease affecting one will often affect the others as well, making myeloproliferation and lymphoproliferation (and thus the leukemias and the lymphomas) closely related and often overlapping problems.

While uncommon in solid tumors, chromosomal translocations are a common cause of these diseases. This commonly leads to a different approach in diagnosis and treatment of haematological malignancies.

Haematological malignancies are malignant neoplasms (“cancer”), and they are generally treated by specialists in haematology and/or oncology.

Hematological malignancies may derive from either of the two major blood cell lineages: myeloid and lymphoid cell lines. The myeloid cell line normally produces granulocytes, erythrocytes, thrombocytes, macrophages and mast cells; the lymphoid cell line produces B, T, NK and plasma cells. Lymphomas, lymphocytic leukemias, and myeloma are from the lymphoid line, while acute and chronic myelogenous leukemia, myelodysplastic syndromes and myeloproliferative diseases are myeloid in origin.

A subgroup of them are more severe and are known as haematological malignancies or blood cancer.

Blood cancer affects the blood, bone marrow, lymph, and lymphatic system.