The primary objective of our research group at RWTH Aachen University is the characterization of new class II tumor suppressor genes (C2TSGs) that are often epigenetically down regulated (silenced) in cancer. The focus is on breast cancer and on decoding the molecular signaling pathways in which these novel putative tumor suppressor genes play a central role.
The WNT pathway seems to be of great importance with regard to development and progression of breast cancer. In recent years, we have been working mainly on the tumor suppressor genes SFRP1 and DKK3, which encode secreted inhibitors of the WNT pathway. As components of the extracellular matrix (ECM) they act on neighboring cells.
A novel tumor suppressor molecule of the ECM that we cloned first and described in 2004 is the inter-alpha-trypsin inhibitor H5 (short name: ITIH5). ITIH5 may belong to a special class of tumor suppressor genes because it seems to specifically inhibit tumor progression and metastasis ("metastasis suppressor gene").
We hope that findings from our tumor suppressor gene research may contribute in the long term to improvements in cancer treatment as novel therapeutic approaches may be addressed using these candidate genes (C2TSG-based targeted therapies). In addition, epigenetic biomarkers may be especially suitable for early cancer detection from body fluids like blood or urine. This is the reason we are also developing our C2TSGs as biomarkers for liquid biopsy based early detection of cancer.