Two days of grey, rainy weather could do nothing to offset the excitement in the auditorium in the Natcher Conference Center at NIH, the site of the Roadmap Epigenomics’ workshop on Emerging Evidence for Epigenomic Changes in Human Disease. The two day workshop went down Monday and Tuesday last week with great talks from many of the grant awardees and other pioneers in the field.
By far the coolest aspect of this meeting was the excitement that effused from every talk, Q&A, poster, and all the side conversations during the breaks. At EpiGenie, we write about various topics in epigenetics, when we’re not reading about them. We talk to researchers continuously. We research technologies and useful databases supporting the field between organizing a few seminars of our own. So it was a major treat to chill for two days and feed off the collective stoke in the Natcher Auditorium. Did we mention this event was free? See you at the next workshop.
Epigenetics Outside of the Tumor
The majority of the talks highlighted the vast range of diseases outside of cancer where epigenetics plays a central role. Past funding in these areas has been much lower than in the cancer research community. In fact, as recent as 2006, epigenetics related research grants in the field of cancer accounted for more than the next 20 research categories combined.
Of course we’re interested in epigenetics in cancer, but it was really interesting to hear Moshe Szyf present data highlighting socio-economic effects on the dynamic epigenome and Amir Levine layout a potential mechanism for epigenetics in the “gateway theory,” where gateway drug use (e.g nicotine and alcohol) might “prime” individuals for enhanced experience with harder drugs via chromatin remodeling.
Epigenetics Technology Voids
It’s no secret that dedicated epigenetic research product development has taken a backseat at many technology companies to some other areas boasting bigger $$$ potential in recent years, but recent improvements to ChIP, DNA methylation enrichment, and bisulfite conversion and their applications in sequencing have already made a big impact as shown in a number of talks presented by the Reference Epigenome Mapping Centers (REMCs).
Brad Bernstein, Bing Ren, and John Stamatoyannopoulos all presented data that highlighted the utility of these approaches, while providing a glimpse into the insanely complex landscape of epigenetic regulatory circuitry in disease and development. We can only imagine what type of data sets and insights we’ll be hearing about as the community starts cracking away on the technology grants in the Roadmap Epigenetics project. Designed to address many of the current gaps in the tool bin, the technology development areas include:
Technology Development: Histone Modifications
- Technology to isolate specific chromatin segments and analyze by mass spectrometry, to complement chromatin immunoprecipitation
- Technology to study the temporal dynamics of histone modification using metabolic labeling with non-standard amino acids
- Improve the detection of post-translational histone modifications using affinity clamp reagents or chemical reporters
- Identify ‘writers”and “readers” of the histone code using mRNA-display or protein and peptide arrays
Technology Development: DNA Methylation Analysis
- Analyze the methylation status of a subset of the genome (e.g. all promoters or all CpG islands) significantly reducing cost
- Determine DNA methylation status of 200 promoters using material from 1-10 cells
- Determine methylation status of single DNA molecules using nanofluidic technology