Abstract: Biomarkers are naturally-occurring characteristics by which a particular pathological process or disease can be identified or monitored. They can reflect past environmental exposures, predict disease onset or course, or determine a patient’s response to therapy. Epigenetic changes are such characteristics, with most epigenetic biomarkers discovered to date based on the epigenetic mark of DNA methylation. Many tissue types are suitable for the discovery of DNA methylation biomarkers including cell-based samples such as blood and tumor material and cell-free DNA samples such as plasma. DNA methylation biomarkers with diagnostic, prognostic and predictive power are already in clinical trials or in a clinical setting for cancer. Outside cancer, strong evidence that complex disease originates in early life is opening up exciting new avenues for the detection of DNA methylation biomarkers for adverse early life environment and for estimation of future disease risk. However, there are a number of limitations to overcome before such biomarkers reach the clinic. Nevertheless, DNA methylation biomarkers have great potential to contribute to personalized medicine throughout life. We review the current state of play for DNA methylation biomarkers, discuss the barriers that must be crossed on the way to implementation in a clinical setting, and predict their future use for human disease.
Abstract: Branching epithelial morphogenesis is closely linked to epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), a process important in normal development and cancer progression. The miR-200 family regulates epithelial morphogenesis and EMT through a negative feedback loop with the ZEB1 and ZEB2 transcription factors. miR-200 inhibits expression of ZEB1/2 mRNA, which in turn can down-regulate the miR-200 family that further results in down-regulation of E-cadherin and induction of a mesenchymal phenotype. Recent studies show that the expression of miR-200 genes is high during late pregnancy and lactation, thereby indicating that these miRs are important for breast epithelial morphogenesis and differentiation. miR-200 genes have been studied intensively in relation to breast cancer progression and metastasis, where it has been shown that miR-200 members are down-regulated in basal-like breast cancer where the EMT phenotype is prominent. There is growing evidence that the miR-200 family is up-regulated in distal breast metastasis indicating that these miRs are important for colonization of metastatic breast cancer cells through induction of mesenchymal to epithelial transition. The dual role of miR-200 in primary and metastatic breast cancer is of interest for future therapeutic interventions, making it important to understand its role and interacting partners in more detail.
Abstract: The successful completion of the Human Genome Project (HGP) was an unprecedented scientific advance that has become an invaluable resource in the search for genes that cause monogenic and common (polygenic) diseases. Prior to the HGP, linkage analysis had successfully mapped many disease genes for monogenic disorders; however, the limitations of this approach were particularly evident for identifying causative genes in rare genetic disorders affecting lifespan and/or reproductive fitness, such as skeletal dysplasias. In this review, we illustrate the challenges of mapping disease genes in such conditions through the ultra-rare disorder fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP) and we discuss the advances that are being made through current massively parallel (“next generation”) sequencing (MPS) technologies.
Abstract: Over the last two decades, multiple studies have explored the mechanisms governing mRNA export out of the nucleus, a crucial step in eukaryotic gene expression. During transcription and processing, mRNAs are assembled into messenger ribonucleoparticles (mRNPs). mRNPs are then exported through nuclear pore complexes (NPCs), which are large multiprotein assemblies made of several copies of a limited number of nucleoporins. A considerable effort has been put into the dissection of mRNA export through NPCs at both cellular and molecular levels, revealing the conserved contributions of a subset of nucleoporins in this process, from yeast to vertebrates. Several reports have also demonstrated the ability of NPCs to sort out properly-processed mRNPs for entry into the nuclear export pathway. Importantly, changes in mRNA export have been associated with post-translational modifications of nucleoporins or changes in NPC composition, depending on cell cycle progression, development or exposure to stress. How NPC modifications also impact on cellular mRNA export in disease situations, notably upon viral infection, is discussed.
Abstract: The tremendous increase in DNA sequencing capacity arising from the commercialization of “next generation” instruments has opened the door to innumerable routes of investigation in basic and translational medical science. It enables very large data sets to be gathered, whose interpretation and conversion into useful knowledge is only beginning. A challenge for modern healthcare systems and academic medical centers is to apply these new methods for the diagnosis of disease and the management of patient care without unnecessary delay, but also with appropriate evaluation of the quality of data and interpretation, as well as the clinical value of the insights gained. Most critically, the standards applied for evaluating these new laboratory data and ensuring that the results and their significance are clearly communicated to patients and their caregivers should be at least as rigorous as those applied to other kinds of medical tests. Here, we present an overview of conceptual and practical issues to be considered in planning for the integration of genomic methods or, in principle, any other type of “omics” testing into clinical care.
Abstract: The current emphasis on broad sharing of human genomic data generated in research in order to maximize utility and public benefit is a significant legacy of the Human Genome Project. Concerns about privacy and discrimination have led to policy responses that restrict access to genomic data as the means for protecting research participants. Our research and experience show, however, that a considerable number of research participants agree to open access sharing of their genomic data when given the choice. General policies that limit access to all genomic data fail to respect the autonomy of these participants and, at the same time, unnecessarily limit the utility of the data. We advocate instead a more balanced approach that allows for individual choice and encourages informed decision making, while protecting against the misuse of genomic data through enhanced legislation.