No Tumour, No Cancer Cure: New Epigenetic Test can pinpoint Elusive Ones

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Not all tumours are detectable, which makes them particularly deadly. Researchers at the University of Barcelona have developed an epigenetic test to find them, the first of its kind to diagnose tumour sources.

logo_idibell_llargboCancer starts with a tumour, which grows and eventually sheds cells. These cells lodge in other tissues in the body and grow into new tumours in the process known as metastasis. In 5 to 10% of cancer diagnoses, metastasis is detected but the original tumour remains elusive. This is known as Cancer of Unknown Primary (CUP), and its mystery makes it particularly deadly: without a target, treatment is not very effective, and survivability is limited.

Figure 1. EpiCup doesn't require any further development - if a doctor can't find the primary tumour, he or she can already use this test to find it.
Figure 1. EpiCup doesn’t require any further development – if a doctor can’t find the primary tumour, he or she can already use this test to find it.

In The Lancet Oncology, the Director of the Epigenetics and Cancer Biology Program of the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL), Dr. Manel Estellar, has published a new epigenetic test with great promise to detect CUP tumours, known as EPICUP. His team of researchers analysed the signatures of 10.000 human tumours and developed a paradigm to identify the metastatic cells’ original organs from “photographs” of the epigenome.

A few years ago, we became aware that the chemical patterns that regulate the activity of genes (the epigenome) are specific to each tissue. For example, they are different in a pancreatic cell compared to a lung cell.”  Dr. Manel Esteller, Director of the Epigenetics and Cancer Biology Program of the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL)

Dr. Estellar emphasised that no further development is needed – this test, the product of his collaboration with Ferrer laboratories, is ready for application immediately! Patients no longer have to be treated blindly, risking more side effects and a higher chance of failure. Knowing the site of the tumour could boost the efficacy of cancer treatments to improve patients’ prognoses and quality of life.

Epigenetics is a potential goldmine of information on diseases. Read more about what Epigenomics is doing with it in our backyard in Berlin!


Journal Reference: Moran S, Martínez-Cardús A, Sayols S, Musulén E, Balana C, Estival-Gonzalez A, Moutinho C, Heyn H, Diaz-Lagares A, Castro de Moura M, Stella GM, Comoglio PM, Ruiz-Miró M, Matias-Guiu X, Pazo-Cid R, Antón A, Lopez-Lopez R, Soler G, Longo F, Guerra I, Fernandez S, Assenov Y, Plass C, Morales R, Carles J, Bowtell D, Mileshkin L, Sia D, Tothill R, Tabernero J, Llovet JM, Esteller M. Epigenetic profiling to classify cancer of unknown primary: a multicentre, retrospective analysis. The Lancet Oncology, August 2016 DOI: 10.1016/S1470-2045(16)30297-2
Featured Image: Dye_enhanced_bottom_view (CC2.0, Eric Lewis/Flickr)
Figure 1: IDIBELL


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