Researchers at the BC Cancer Agency part of global initiative to understand the human “epigenome”
The term “genome” refers to all the DNA within a cell, and the term “epigenome” refers to the chemical modifications of DNA and proteins that control the structure and activity of the genome. Epigenomes either cause the genome to stay healthy or develop diseases, such as cancer, because they produce the code for cellular properties that distinguish one cell type from another. A better understanding of the epigenome may assist in the design of new treatments.
The project called, The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Roadmap Epigenomics Program, provides a core set of data, methodology and infrastructure for studying the role of the epigenome in human health and disease. The original goal was to map 25 normal reference epigenomes, but new technology allowed the team to produce 111 highly detailed maps on how the epigenome varies and operates in different settings.
Dr. Martin Hirst, Head of Epigenomics at the BC Cancer Agency Genome Sciences Centre, is a senior author of the paper , which integrates all 111 epigenomes into a single comparative analysis. Dr. Hirst and his colleagues are also publishing an in-depth analysis of human breast cell epigenomes, Epigenetic and transcriptional determinant of the human breast.
The Roadmap Epigenomics Program was the first large-scale epigenome mapping initiative in the world, and has inspired similar mapping efforts, which are united by the International Human Epigenome Consortium (IHEC). The IHEC aims to coordinate the production of at least 1,000 human epigenome maps.
Just as the Human Genome Project provided a map of the genes of the human genome, the Roadmap Epigenomics Program offers a resource for understanding how our genetic blueprint is interpreted in different cell and tissue types. The next step will be to map the epigenetic profiles of individuals to understand more about how they vary from person to person and to establish causes between any of these “epigenomic marks” and disease.
The BC Cancer Agency was part of a team that included the University of California, San Francisco, the University of Southern California, the University of California, Santa Cruz, Washington University, Simon Fraser University, and the University of British Columbia.
• The BC Cancer Agency was a member of the only Canadian team.
• There were 245 authors on the integrative manuscript, Integrative analysis of 111 reference human epigenomes.
• Of those 245 authors 18 were from the BC Cancer Agency.
• IHEC encompasses the Canadian Epigenetic and Environment and Health Research Consortium (CEEHRC), and aims to coordinate the production of at least 1,000 human epigenome maps.
• All IHEC data is available for use by researchers from around the world, with the ultimate aim of improving human health through a better understanding of disease prevention and potential therapeutic options.
Dr. Nick Foster, Interim head of the BC Cancer Agency
I want to congratulate all of the BC Cancer Agency researchers that worked on the NIH Roadmap Epigenomics Program. They should feel proud of the important role they played in this international project. This research will help us to learn more about the epigenome and in turn lead to better treatment options for our patients.
Dr. Martin Hirst, Head of Epigenomics at the BC Cancer Agency Genome Sciences Centre
This is an important milestone in our understanding of epigenomes. The reference maps that we have created provide a sort of vocabulary book that will help us decipher the biochemical activities of each DNA segment in the context of normal cell and tissue types. As a result of this project our ability to translate the genome book has dramatically improved.
Carl Roy, President & CEO, Provincial Health Services Authority:
The BC Cancer Agency’s involvement in this important international effort demonstrates the priority the Provincial Health Services Authority places on research. The goal that PHSA and its agencies share with our partners in government, academia and the scientific community is to translate developments like this into even better health care for patients.
Terry Lake, Health Minister
This innovative work is an example of the world-class cancer research taking place right here in British Columbia. BC has the best overall cancer rates in the country and it is great news that our home-grown research is receiving worldwide recognition.
The BC Cancer Agency is part of the Provincial Health Services Authority, providing province-wide speciality health care. Together, they are transforming health care through innovation. The BC Cancer Agency provides a comprehensive cancer control program for the people of British Columbia by working with community partners to deliver a range of oncology services, including prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment, research, education, supportive care, rehabilitation and palliative care. For more information, visit www.bccancer.bc.ca.
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BC Cancer Agency