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Roche Diagnostics expects to bring Epigenomics’ first product, a screening test for colon cancer, to market in 2008. The test is several times more likely to spot a tumor than the current test, which measures the amount of blood in a stool sample. And thanks to the sensitivity of its process, Epigenomics can detect the tiny amounts of methylated DNA such tumors shed into the bloodstream, so only a standard blood sample is required. The company is working on diagnostics for three more cancers: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, breast cancer, and prostate cancer.

Olek believes that epigenetics could also have applications in helping explain how lifestyle affects the aging process. It might reveal, for example, why some individuals have a propensity toward diabetes or heart disease.

Olek’s goal is a human-epigenome mapping project that would identify the full range of epigenetic variation possible in the human genome. Such a map, Olek believes, could reveal the missing links between genetics, disease, and the environment. Today, progress on the methylation catalogue is accelerating, thanks to Epigenomics and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which predict that the methylation status of 10 percent of human genes will be mapped by the end of this year. Peter Fairley


Stephan Beck – Epigenetics of the immune system
Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge, England

Joseph Bigley – Cancer diagnosis and drug development
OncoMethylome Sciences, Durham, NC

Thomas Gingeras – Gene chips for epigenetics
Affymetrix, Santa Clara, CA

Home page image courtesy of Gunter Kloetzer/Laif/Redux

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