DNA methylation, the modification of a cytosine nucleotide immediately preceding a guanine base in a stretch of DNA, is rapidly gaining strength in the diagnostic field as a powerful tool to be utilized for the discrimination of neoplastic tissue from its healthy counterpart. This epigenetic modification occurs often in the promoter region of genes and is associated with transcriptional silencing of tumor suppressors or other genes important for normal cellular function. These changes have been found to occur at very early stages in the progression of healthy to malignant phenotype in many cancer types. We are taking a targeted approach to finding methylation-based markers that can be used not only for the early detection of cancer but also for determining risk, monitoring patient response to therapy and even determining the degree of aggressiveness of a tumor. In this paper, we review the progress in our understanding of methylation in gastrointestinal tumors, the potential clinical applications of methylation-based markers and our process for the discovery and validation of highly specific and sensitive markers for the use in these applications.

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