Bacon and cancer

Bacon and cancer

This blog is about the new classification of processed meat as carcinogen to humans Group 1 by the World Health Organisation

This week, bacon was in the news. It has been classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as carcinogen to humans Group 1, together with tobacco smoking asbestos. People do love bacon. My daughter used to work in a cafe, and she tells me that the customers would go to great lengths to describe the exact way they would like their bacon cooked. But she's a scientist now, and has looked into this new classification for us. I hope that the following paragraphs help to explain the science and research behind the new classification, and what it might mean for the bacon lovers among us.

Laboratory accreditation and the Maintrac test

Laboratory accreditation and the Maintrac test

What kind of accreditation does the Maintrac test and how is that relevant to the country in which I practice?

This is an extremely important question that practitioners often and must ask. Practitioners need to know that the test performed in Germany meets the medical testing standards required by their own countries. And it does. The Maintrac laboratory (SIMFO) is accredited by the German laboratory accreditation organisation, DAKKS. DAKKS is a signatory to...

Your lifestyle is an on/off switch for your genes

Your lifestyle is an on/off switch for your genes

We know that our lifestyle affects our health. We've heard it a million times before. Some of us take it more seriously than others. What we haven't really heard much of is how this relates to the inherited illnesses that people are at-risk of getting. Interestingly, again, it is actually lifestyle that significantly affects our chance of actually getting the illness that we're at risk of. For instance, someone born with a BRCA mutation, isn't necessarily going to get breast cancer. They are more at risk of getting breast cancer than someone who is born without the mutation, but they may or may not get it. Lifestyle actually plays a major, major role in whether an 'at risk' individual will end up developing the disease. There's a biochemical basis to all this - it's called Epigenetics.

Epigenetics is a field of Genetics that has had an overwhelming amount of research in the last 20 years. The thing that is extremely exciting about this, is that our genetic 'blueprint' is controllable. It isn't as set as we thought it is.

You may have read in previous blogs here about what happens when genes are switched on: the DNA that contains the genes is opened and unravelled, is 'read' by cellular machinery, a complementary copy of the gene in the form of mRNA is made, and then mRNA is processed through a ribosome factory, which makes the relevant protein which was originally coded on the DNA. It's really quite extraordinary, and a very elegantly designed process.

Epigenetics controls the switching on and off of genes. It does this quite simply: it tags them with what is known in the chemistry world with a methyl group. Genes that are tagged with methyl groups are switched off. The thinking is that this methyl group allows a group of proteins to bind to the 'on' switch of a gene, making it no longer available for activation.

The super interesting bit is that in a very famous Epigenetics/twin study, researchers found that the more different the twins were - especially if they had grown up separately, or had had very different life histories, the more epigenetically different they were. It was concluded that Epigenetics was the biochemical basis for the differences seen in identical twins. What this means, is that the way we live our lives - our diets, exercise habits, environment and general lifestyle physically affects the way our genes are controlled.

In cancer, the two main groups of genes that are mutated are called Oncogenes and Tumour Suppressor genes. Oncogenes act to induce cell proliferation whereas Tumour Suppressor genes act to inhibit cell proliferation. Interestingly, in cancer, Tumour Suppressor genes have been found to be epigenetically modified to be 'hypermethylated.' In other words, they have been switched off and are not functioning to stop uncontrolled cell growth. The really interesting observation about this is that it has been Epigenetics, caused by diet/lifestyle, that have switched off the gene.

More about Oncogenes and Tumour Suppressor genes in the next blog


More info

Practitioners: Krakowsky et al. (2015), Impact of nutrition on non-coding RNA epigenetics in breast and gynecological cancer, Frontiers in Nutrition (2), Article 16 ...Read online

Patients: TedX Talk - Epigenetics and the influence on our genes ...Watch video


The purpose of this blog is to provide information for a general audience. It is not inteded as personal or professional medical advice, which should be obtained directly from your Healthcare Practitioner

Blog copyright Genostics 2015

Detecting the rare, renegade cancer cells

Detecting the rare, renegade cancer cells

Very early in tumour development, the tumour may send out some extremely sneaky cells into the bloodstream. The cells may circulate in the bloodstream as dormant cancer cells for months or years, and may even survive cancer treatment aimed at treating a primary cancer. The cells are called Circulating Tumour Cells, and are the cause of cancer spread, metastases. It is the metastases, rather than the primary tumour, which is most often responsible for patient fatality. Circulating Tumour Cells have become a hot topic in cancer research laboratories and Oncology conferences worldwide: if these cells can be targeted, then it is possible to stop cancer in its tracks...

Survival of the fittest in cancer

Survival of the fittest in cancer

Darwin described how species evolved via descent with modification. This means that with every generation, there are tiny, unseen changes. Very few modifications, or as we now term them mutations in the DNA will cause a change in the function or phenotype of the organism. However, one day, one organism will be born or acquire a mutation that gives them an advantage over other organisms of the same species. Read on to find out how this relates to the evolution of a person's cancer...

Which chemotherapy kills the cells responsible for cancer spread, doctor?

Which chemotherapy kills the cells responsible for cancer spread, doctor?

Each person's cancer is unique. Totally unique. There are similarities, but the way in which a person's cancer responds to therapy is a result of that cancer's individual genetics and how those genetics play out in the function of the cancer cells. Two people with the same type of cancer might respond differently to the same treatment. There is now a way of helping to determine which way a person's cancer might respond...

Gene expression and the regulation of genes

Gene expression and the regulation of genes

A gene that is expressed, simply means that it is active. If a gene is a set of instructions, gene expression simply means that the instructions are being read and acted upon by cellular machinery. The result of gene expression is a functional protein, or phenotype. The cellular machine that 'reads' the DNA sequence coding for a gene is called DNA polymerase. As it speeds along the DNA strand, the DNA polymerase machine produces a single strand of RNA, called an mRNA transcript. These transcripts are...

Genetics, explained simply

Genetics, explained simply

What is DNA? What is a gene? What is a mutation?

In brief, DNA is a long molecule that stores information. DNA is located in the centre (nucleus) of every cell and contains all the instructions necessary for the organism to function. Similar to pearls on a necklace, along the DNA strand there are millions of basic structural units called nucleotides. Each nucleotide (pearl) is one of four types: A, T, G or C, as determined by the nitrogenous base they contain, i.e., nucleotide 'A' has Adenine, 'T' has Tyrosine, 'C' has Cysteine and 'G' has Guanine. these four types of nucleotides are arranged along the strand of DNA in such a way that their order spells out a code that...

What is a biomarker and how are CTCs defined as both a biomarker and as a carrier of biomarkers?

What is a biomarker and how are CTCs defined as both a biomarker and as a carrier of biomarkers?

A biomarker is a short way of saying 'biological marker.' By definition, biomarkers are biological indicators of the existence of either a physiological (normal) or pathogenic (disease) process, or pharmacological response. Biomarkers include things like cells and proteins, and/or specific sequences of DNA, mRNA transcripts, non-coding RNAs...

Circulating Tumour Cells: tell me more

Circulating Tumour Cells: tell me more

From the time malignant tumours have reached a size of wmm, they release thousands of malignant cells into the circulation. Most of these cells die or get kiled off. The more aggressive ones survive and remain in the bloodstream as 'Circulating Tumour Cells,' abbreviated as CTCs. These cells have the potential to dispatch into a foreign site in the body in order to proliferate and create a 'secondary cancer,' also known as a 'metastasis.' Their ability to do this is unique to CTCs.

CTCs are a subpopulation of cancer cells that...

How cancer spreads: the biology of metastasis

How cancer spreads: the biology of metastasis

Cells in a malignant tumour will be accumulating new mutations with each life-cycle, or cell division. This means that there will be different types of cells within the one tumour. We say, that there are therefore 'heterogenous' populations of cells within the one tumour. These populations are all organised in a way that supports tumour growth. Some cells will be stimulating the formation of new blood vessels so as to guarantee nutrition; some will be making growth-factor hormones to stimulate a greater rate of cell division etc.

The switch that occurs for a malignant tumour to become metastatic begins with a few cells that acquire the ability to detach and move away from the primary cancer: through the extracellular matrix and invade the circulation...

DNA, Cancer and what it takes for a cell to become cancerous

DNA, Cancer and what it takes for a cell to become cancerous

Most cells in our body are continuously dividing, different types of cells at different rates. Each cell contains DNA, a long molecule that holds the genetic code necessary for the cell to function both as a single unit and as part of an entire organism.

Before a cell divides, it has complex mechanisms in place which check...

The world's first CTC Blog for practitioners and patients

The world's first CTC Blog for practitioners and patients

Welcome to the Circulating Tumour Cell (CTC) Blog: A blog committed to making current developments in CTC science accessible to both patients and their practitioners. For patients, this blog will translate complex, technical information into street-speak, so that patients might keep themselves well informed of current developments. For practitioners, this blog will provide links to notable publications both in pure and translational science...