Mechanisms of Carcinogenesis - Molecular Mechanisms and Biomarkers Group
The development of cancer is driven by the accumulation of a range of alterations affecting the structure and function of the genome. These alterations may be acquired as the result of mutations caused by environmental or endogenous risk factors. These changes primarily affect not only the function of the proteins encoded by the altered genes, but also the whole cellular circuitry controlling cell growth, replicative potential, survival and response to stress. Identifying the causes and consequences of these changes is essential for understanding the mechanisms underlying cancer development, for predicting cancer risk, and for designing efficient therapeutic and preventive strategies.
Although epidemiological studies support the role of the environment in a wide range of human cancers, the precise mechanisms by which environmental exposures promote cancer development and progression remain poorly understood. It is only with recent advances in genomics that molecular mechanisms underlying environmental influences are beginning to be elucidated. Somatic mutations and other genetic changes can be “read” as fingerprints of mechanisms of mutagenesis, providing clues on cancer phenotype and gene-environment interactions involved in cancer causation. Previous studies extensively investigated genetic and epigenetic changes in tumors, but current sequencing efforts are challenged trying to identify genetic events that precede and promote tumour development and to differentiate between passenger and driver events. Many large-scale sequencing studies will reveal new genes and pathways that are frequently disrupted in specific human malignancies. Therefore, further studies are needed to identify important early events in carcinogenesis that are influenced by environmental exposures.