According to the company, the market for epigenetic applications is estimated to exceed $4bn (€2.58bn) by 2012 with an annual compound growth rate of 60 per cent. However, research has been hindered by a lack of standardised solutions that cover the entire application base that spans life science research, molecular diagnostics and the development of new pharmaceutical compounds. To counter this, Qiagen has expanded its EpiTect product line to provide customers with a complete pre-analytical and analytical workflow that guarantees reproducible results even from scarce tissue samples. Epigenetics is the study of biological events that regulate gene expression that do not result from changes to the underlying genetic code. One of the major epigenetic mechanisms involves the methylation of DNA that acts much like an "on / off" switch for gene function. Methylation is an enzyme-mediated chemical modification that adds methyl groups to various cytosine sites in DNA. The process is believed to play a key part in the development of various cancers and heritable diseases and a better understanding of the process could lead to the development of new therapies and diagnostic biomarkers. Recent discoveries have shown that methylation patterns can change over time in reaction to various environmental conditions. These changes are hereditary and show how an individual's lifestyle, e.g. his nutrition uptake, can have an influence on future generations. "Epigenetics is an extremely dynamic area of research and an important market for Qiagen," said Gerald Schock, Global Product Manager WGA Epigenetics at Qiagen. "Our expanded portfolio brings a new level of efficiency, convenience and reliability to epigenetic research and will help to further advance and disseminate epigenetic applications by removing key bottlenecks previously hindering the corresponding research work." The expanded product offering enables researchers to perform multiple tests of limited amounts of sample material by specifically amplifying treated DNA. The products include a real-time PCR (polymerase chain reaction) based kit for quantitative analysis of methylated DNA, as well as assays to assist in the differentiation of those methylated DNA in genes related to cancer. The product line also includes control DNA strands that can be used to verify methylation analysis and increase the standardisation of assay setups in different locations.