A University of Southern California (USC) study, in the March 5 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found the drug cuts tumor size by turning on tumor suppressor genes that have been turned off by a process called DNA methylation.
It's only recently that scientists have started to recognize the important role that DNA methylation can play in cancer development. DNA methylation refers to the addition of a methyl group to a stretch of DNA that can silence that gene.
When methylation silences a gene that normally controls cell growth or prompts a cell to die, then the cell continues to grow unchecked, which is the hallmark of cancer.
The USC researchers found that zebularine was equally effective in reducing the size of tumors in mice when administered orally and when injected into the abdominal area. The fact that the drug seems effective when taken orally is important because ease of use is a major issue with cancer drugs.
This study is the first to show that oral use of this type of drug can reactivate silenced genes. However, more research is needed before zebularine is tested in humans, the researchers say.
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