Epigenetics refers to changes in how genetic material is read and processed by the cell, rather than changes to the DNA itself. Like mutations in genes, epigenetic changes can also cause cancer.
For decades, cancer research has focused on the role of genetic mutations, or changes in the DNA sequence, in driving cancer. But DNA is only part of the story.
We now know epigenetic changes can be reversed, opening the door to a new class of cancer-fighting drugs.
With our dual focus on adult and pediatric cancer research, Dana-Farber is leading the epigenetics revolution, translating findings from genetically simpler pediatric cancer studies to more complex adult cancers.
Our researchers’ basic science discoveries in pediatric sarcomas in the early 2000’s, for example, played a leading role in the recent FDA approval of the first-ever epigenetic drug to treat solid tumors.
We discovered that the pediatric cancer mixed lineage leukemia (MLL) is driven by an abnormality that leads to widespread epigenetic changes that spur the cancer’s growth. Working with collaborators in biotech, we discovered that a drug can block these changes and halt cancer growth. That drug is now in clinical trials.
Gifts will empower us to create an “epigenetics tool box” of compounds, animal models, and computational approaches for studying epigenetic mechanisms more rapidly and effectively. They will empower us to lead major collaborative research efforts with academic institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and biotech firms to translate discoveries into clinical trials of epigenetic drugs, either alone or in combination with other therapies.
For more information or questions, please contact Kelsey Cunningham.