What are molecular biomarkers?
Our genes are important to our overall health and ability to ward off diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. They can be affected by genetic changes or by epigenetics. Epigenetics refers to our environment and certain behaviors like smoking, being obese, or being malnourished that can cause changes in how our genes work.1
Part of studying epigenetics is recognizing that our cells produce substances that can be warning signs of a particular disease, stage of disease, or risk of a disease. These substances are known as molecular biomarkers, and they help healthcare providers measure and understand how our body is doing in general.
Some biomarkers can be used to diagnose diseases (“diagnostic”) or help guide disease treatment (“prognostic”). EsopredictTM identifies changes in the methylation levels of four different biomarkers, using a sample of a patient’s Barrett’s esophagus cells to provide a result report called the EsoscoreTM. The EsoscoreTM helps determine a patient’s future risk of getting esophageal cancer and will help gastroenterologists determine the appropriate treatment steps and surveillance needs for their patients with Barrett’s esophagus.
What is DNA methylation and why is it important?
A type of biomarker that can indicate early signs of cancer is called “methylation”. DNA methylation is a process that occurs naturally in our cells when a chemical change, known as a “methyl group”, gets added to our DNA. The outcome of this methyl group can affect how molecules behave inside our cells. For example, DNA methylation can turn off or suppress genes that could lead to cancer and other diseases. DNA methylation is a vital biochemical process that regulates many important functions in our cells. However, when this process goes wrong, it can cause damage to our bodies, including cancer and other diseases like heart disease or Type II diabetes.
References: 1. CDC. “What Is Epigenetics?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 Aug. 2020, www.cdc.gov/genomics/disease/epigenetics.htm.