In multicellular organisms, groups of cells - such as brain cells, blood cells and liver cells - have the ability to perform specific functions. Each specialised cell uses (expresses) only a fraction of the proteins that are coded in its genetic material (genes in the DNA), as it only needs certain proteins to perform its role . For example, some genes are only required for liver function so are not expressed in brain cells.
These specialised cell programmes are achieved in a complex way and involve proteins that help to regulate which parts of DNA are expressed (switched 'on'). In particular, one of these gene regulatory mechanisms relies on the direct chemical modification of DNA, which does not change the genetic code of the DNA, but alters which parts are expressed. The patterns of DNA modifications change cancer, but the causes and consequences of these changes are not completely understood. Our research works to understand the function of DNA modifications, and this will help us to understand what goes wrong in cancer.