Epigenetic research on biomarkers of human disease is in full swing among scientific community, although in the Republic of Croatia this area is just beginning to develop. Therefore, within this project, established young scientists from the field of basic and clinical biomedical research have been gathered in a Scientific Group for Research on Epigenetic Biomarkers (epiMark). The activities of the epiMark group, in addition to scientific research, include raising awareness in the Croatian scientific community about the importance of epigenetics and epigenetic disorders in understanding human health and disease, and the translational potential of epigenetic research in modern medical practice. Indeed, in a short two-year period, epiMark members have become collaborators and consultants in a number of national and international research projects that have recognized the value of embracing epigenetics in order to advance their research.
Among other research projects, the focus is on epigenetic biomarkers of prostate cancer (epiPro). Namely, prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed malignant disease in men in the Republic of Croatia. Screening for prostate cancer is challenging because the gold standard biomarker PSA is not specific enough. Its blood levels increase in benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) as well, a benign condition that affects older men and coincides in time with the onset of prostate cancer. The result is a large number of unnecessary biopsies being performed that pose a potential harm to patients and burden the health system. The aim of this project is to identify epigenetic biomarkers of prostate cancer in liquid biopsies that will enable more specific and sensitive diagnosis and better differentiation of prostate cancer from BPH.
During the project’s first two years, a scientific review paper was published in the journal Epigenomics. The paper critically analyzes the experimental designs and methodologies used in the study of miRNA as a biomarker, especially prostate cancer, and provides recommendations for improving the field. Five conference abstracts have been published at international scientific conferences. A round table on the topic of epigenetic biomarkers of male reproductive health with about 30 participants was organized. Project assistants participated in a dozen workshops on liquid biopsies, work on a laser micro-dissector, automated Western blot system, digital PCR system, prostate histology and pathology, commercialization of scientific research and skills in scientific work and article writing.