In a paper published online Feb. 22, 2011, in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Marsit leads a team of scientists in describing a blood test that can accurately detect biomolecular markers of bladder cancer that risky exposures may have left behind.
The test measures a pattern of "methylation," a chemical alteration to DNA that affects which genes are expressed in cells, that Marsit's team determined is associated with bladder cancer. Methylation is affected by exposures in the environment, such as cigarette smoke and industrial pollutants, so many scientists believe that abnormal patterns of it in the body could be indicators of an increased likelihood of disease.
"What we might be measuring is an accumulated barometer of your life of exposures that then put you at risk," said Marsit, assistant professor of medical science in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University. "Will you ever really figure out if eating something when you were 12 gave you cancer? Instead we can use these kinds of markers as an integrated measure of your exposure history throughout your life."
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