Epigenetics Program

Epigenetics Program

Molecular profiling allows clinicians to target therapies to patients' particular genetic make-up -- an approach that has already generated life-saving outcomes. However, the most frustrating part for our clinicians and researchers is that we cannot reverse or fix the cancer-causing mutations in our DNA -- they are there to stay.
 
It has been shown in the laboratory that many cancer genes are turned on or turned off through epigenetic changes, rather than mutations. Epigenetics refers to changes in the gene expression that do not involve alterations to the underlying DNA sequence (hence the term "epigenetics", which literally means "above genetics"). Every cell in your body contains the exact same copy of DNA. Cells differentiate into their specialized forms (i.e. skin cell, muscle cell, brain cell, mammary cell) depending on which genes are epigenetically turned "on" or "off." We now understand that this machinery can go awry in cancer, causing faulty gene regulation that leads to unrestricted cell growth and tumour formation. These epigenetic changes are regulated by many factors, but offer a significant therapeutic advantage because they have the potential to be reversed.
 
Our researchers have recently discovered that by altering cellular biochemistry, we can ultimately "reset" the epigenome to re-establish normal gene regulation. In doing so, influential leaders in the field, such as Senior Scientist Dr. Cheryl Arrowsmith, believe that we will be able to reprogram a cancerous cell into a benign one. She is leading screening efforts where libraries of drugs that target epigenetic players are tested against several different cancer types in pre-clinical systems to identify novel compounds capable of reprogramming a cancerous cell.
 
The Princess Margaret has recruited a world-leading group of epigenetics experts who are researching how epigenetic changes cause cancer and how they can be targeted.