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Int J Mol Epidemiol Genet. 2010 Mar 15;1(2):124-33.

Towards a more functional concept of causality in cancer research.

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Institute of Community Medicine, University of Tromsø 9037 Tromsø, Norway.


Advances in molecular technologies challenge the different concepts of causality in biology, epidemiology and multistage mathematical models. The lack of integration of the different aspects of causality into a common framework could postpone our attempts to build a human causal model of carcinogenesis. We present here some aspects of differences in methodology, terminology and traditions between the scientific disciplines and propose a research strategy using functional analyses of the transcriptome and epigenetics to illuminate causality in complex biological systems. Overcoming the challenges of biological material collection suitable for such analyses into a prospective design, this could give unique opportunities for verification of mechanistic information from basic biological research in a human model system. The ultimate goal is to obtain a dynamic causal description of the different carcinogenesis stages. The success of this novel approach depends on the biological relationship between the gene expression of the somatic driver mutations or co-expressed genes in tumours and the gene expressions mirrored in peripheral blood along the different stages of carcinogenesis. The use of gene expression profiles and epigenetics could produce a functional concept of causality to explain the human multistage carcinogenic process.


Causality; carcinogenesis; epidemiology; epigenetics; multistage models; transcriptomic


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