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IT might not look like something you would see on the side of a can of beans, but Breakthrough Breast Cancer scientists at the University of Edinburgh have discovered a new barcode-style system for cells in the body.

The discovery may help to answer the fundamental questions of what makes cells different from each other and could lead to a test to more effectively diagnose cancer in the next few years.

The barcode is a little known biological molecule called 5-hmC, which has been shown to be a highly-effective method by which we can distinguish cell types. It suggests it could also be a precise method for grouping cancer types, and thus helping patients receive the right treatment for them - what is known as personalised medicine. The results are published in the Genome Research journal and funded by Breakthrough Breast Cancer and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

Professor Richard Meehan from the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Unit and the MRC Human Genetics Unit in Edinburgh, said: "Just like there is a barcode for supermarket groceries, there seems to be a similar unique identity for cells in our body. What is amazing is that we didn't even know about this phenomenon until a couple of years ago.

"Now, we think it could be an effective indicator of the origins of cancer. While we need to do more work, we think we could develop this into a test to help precise diagnosis for cancer patients."

In the first major study of its kind, Professor Meehan, and Dr Colm Nestor, looked at 5-hmC levels in different types of cells.

He found levels of it were strikingly different in cells from different parts of the body, with large variations in the amounts of 5-hmC in the tissues they studied.

For example, brain tissue cells had four times greater levels of 5-hmC than those in the breast, with levels in the blood 1,000 times lower. Cancer cells showed dramatic differences when compared with their tissue of origin. This suggests 5-hmC may indicate specific types of breast cancer.

Professor David Harrison, from the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Unit, said: "These are exciting results. If each cancer patient is going to get the right treatment, we need to precisely diagnose their disease. This finding takes us a step closer to a future of personalised medicine."


BREAKTHROUGH J The discovery of genetic bar codes is proving to be exciting
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Dec 13, 2011
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