Epigenetics refers to the study of heritable changes in cell phenotype that are independent of the DNA sequence. The field of epigenetics has been steadily gaining prominence in cancer research, owing to overwhelming evidence that epigenetic alterations are common and causally important events in virtually all malignancies. Furthermore, due to the suspected existence of an intimate link between the epigenome and the environment (in the broadest sense of the term), this field holds promise to further advance our understanding of the mechanisms of carcinogenesis and the etiology of human cancer as well as to facilitate the development of novel strategies for reducing cancer incidence and cancer-related mortality. All critical processes in cancer cells, known as the hallmarks of cancer, can be induced not only by genetic changes (mutations) but also by epigenetic alterations. Moreover, the reversibility of epigenetic alterations raises the prospect of the development of novel therapeutic approaches, and opens up the field for the development of early cancer detection and of prevention, namely through chemoprevention. Therefore, understanding epigenetic mechanisms associated with cancer onset and progression and in response to environmental exposure is fundamental to our ability not only to diagnose cancer early and treat it efficiently but also to successfully prevent cancer.
Building on its leading expertise in mechanistic studies and epigenomic profiling, EGE has an important role to play in extending our current knowledge of cancer epigenetics for studies of cancer etiology, carcinogen evaluation, and cancer prevention. To this end, EGE builds upon recent advances that have resulted in unprecedented opportunities for cancer epigenetics to contribute to understanding causes of human cancers and to discovery of new biomarkers: (i) emerging concepts involving epigenetic mechanisms in critical cellular processes, (ii) remarkable technological advances in epigenomics that allow powerful screening of large series of samples with unprecedented resolution, and (iii) the availability of large series of samples from case-control studies and population-based cohorts, particularly those coordinated by IARC epidemiologists and external collaborators. An important feature of EGE′s research programme is its complementarity with the research themes of the Molecular Mechanisms and Biomarkers Group (MMB), the other Group in the MCA Section, whose focus is primarily on genetic and other molecular alterations associated with exposures to cancer risk factors.
See Research themes, collaborators, technological platforms, and resources of the Epigenetics Group