Because 98% of the human genome doesn’t serve a direct role in gene expression, many biologists have long thought of them as nothing but “junk DNA.” But might they hold the key to helping stem the formation of deadly cancers? In episode 34, Mike Feigin from Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center talks with us about his discovery of mutations in part of the human genome that most people have so far tended to ignore, but which appears to regulate the expression of genes that drive the formation of cancers. His article “Recurrent noncoding regulatory mutations in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma” (public-access PDF) was published with multiple co-authors on May 8, 2017 in the journal Nature Genetics.



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Press coverage

Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory | eCancer | MedicalXpress | EurekAlert


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Hosts / Producers

Ryan Watkins & Doug Leigh

How to Cite

Watkins, R., Leigh, D., & E. Feigin, M.. (2018, October 16). Parsing Science – Decoding Cancers’ Expression. figshare.


What’s The Angle? by Shane Ivers


Mike Feigin: It’s this behind-the-scenes DNA that no one really thinks about, but that really controls when genes are turned on and turned off. And, no one really thinks about kind of the effects of mutations in those regions.

Doug Leigh: This is Parsing Science. The unpublished stories behind the world’s most compelling science, as told by the researchers themselves. I’m Doug Leigh…

Ryan Watkins: And I’m Ryan Watkins. The South African biologist and Nobel Prize recipient, Sydney Brenner, predicted that, “getting the sequence [of the human genome] [would] be the easy part, [as] only technical issues are involved. The hard part will be finding out what it means, because [it] poses intellectual problems [in understanding how] … genes participate in the functions of living cells.” Today, we’ll talk with Mike Feigin, from Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York, about his discovery of mutations in part of the human genome that most people have so far tended to ignore, but which regulates the expression of genes that drive the formation of deadly cancers.

Feigin: Hi, I’m Mike Feigin. I’m an assistant professor at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. I’ve been interested in science my whole life. I don’t really know why. It’s just, I guess, one thing that I was good at in school, and I always enjoyed it. And, so one day in high school, I decided that I wanted to study pharmacology, and that’s what I did. So, I don’t know why that was my choice, but I’ve always been interested in diseases. I thought for a while I wanted to be an MD, but decided I liked research more, based on some research experiences I had. And, all the work I do is really trying to understand cancer, with the goal of trying to find new drug targets to hopefully, one day, help somebody out there.

Leigh: Even when diagnosed early, the five-year survival rate of pancreatic cancer is only 20%, and when it’s not, this figure drops to just 5%. Ryan and I started our conversation by asking Mike what makes this form of cancer so deadly.

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