SU2C Scientific Research Teams
Bringing Epigenetic Therapy to the Forefront of Cancer Management
Peter A. Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc.
VARI Research Director and Chief Scientific Officer
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Stephen B. Baylin, M.D.
Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Professor for Cancer Research and Co-head of Cancer Biology, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University; Professor, Van Andel Research Institute
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“There’s a time for individual competition and a time for teamwork. And I think this is the time for teamwork in this particular area. We’ve competed against each other for years… We really need to get together now and make a big push.” - Peter A. Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc.
The Epigenetics Dream Team is delivering the promise of epigenetic therapy to clinical practice. Its work is focused ostensibly on breast, colon and lung cancers, as well as leukemia and a separate blood disease—myeloid dysplastic syndrome. The broad foci include the development of biomarkers able to predict and monitor the efficacy of epigenetic therapies, in addition to clinical trials the team is currently conducting, the results of which may well push epigenetic therapy to the forefront of cancer management and care.
The science behind these new therapy and treatment approaches concentrates on self-renewing cancer cells—what are commonly referred to as cancer stem cells. These cells often escape the reach of currently available cancer treatments, or even develop resistance to the therapies themselves.
Cancer stem cell adaptability has persuaded many in the research community that therapies which can target and strike these cells are essential to achieving true progress in the long-term outcome of cancer treatment. Epigenetics Dream Team leaders have identified an epigenetic process, known as DNA de-methylation, that inactivates or “silences” key genes that might otherwise correct for the “mistakes” that permit cancer to exist and flourish. This abnormality helps drive malignancy at the point of origin, and facilitates cancer stem cells to renew over the long term.
Ultimately, the Epigenetics team will work to develop another set of clinical trials for a second-generation epigenetic therapy that will more effectively and directly inhibit the specific epigenetic mistakes associated with cancer causation.
The Epigenetics Dream Team was one of the Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) inaugural Dream Teams, launched in 2009 to focus on epigenetic therapy in cancer treatment. The work of this Dream Team continues with the commitment of $7.5 million from Van Andel Research Institute (VARI). The VARI-SU2C Epigenetics Dream Team ll moves forward with additional clinical trials in various cancer types. It will also allow the team to build and improve upon the progress already made.
Watch a short video in which Epigenetic Team leaders Baylin and Jones talk about the science behind their project: