Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Is "junk" DNA really "junk"?

An article just published by The Scientist discusses the findings of C.M. Laumont et al.’s recent paper published in Sci Transl Med. The major discovery discussed in the paper is that noncoding regions of DNA are the main source of targetable tumor-specific antigens (TSAs). Researchers used mass spectrometry to identify surface proteins on various cancer cells from mice and humans. The research turned up 40 TSAs, 23 of which were from humans. Most of the 23 TSAs were not mutated. Rather, 90% of TSAs were found in regions of DNA which was believed to be suppressed epigenetically, often referred to as “junk” DNA. To test this information, mice were injected with the antigens and mouse T-lymphoblastic lymphoma cells. The results obtained varied depending on the TSA. Some mice displayed a weak immune response while others had a 100% survival rate. This is significant research as researchers hope to incorporate TSAs into vaccines that allow killer T cells to attack certain cancers. 
I was intrigued by this article because we just discussed “junk” DNA in class. It is crazy to think that while we have learned so much about DNA there is still much we do not know. Researchers have spent decades working on cures for cancer. The discovery of TSAs in noncoding regions may be a game changer for approaches to treat cancer. It sounds like vaccines containing killer T cells are still years away, but research and development on this subject could save countless lives going forward. I hope researchers continue their work with tumor-specific antigens and put that knowledge into better treatment options. 

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