Epigenomics and Epigenetics Research
Figure: Epigenetic mechanisms are affected by several factors and processes including development in utero and in childhood, environmental chemicals, drugs and pharmaceuticals, aging, and diet. DNA methylation is what occurs when methyl groups, an epigenetic factor found in some dietary sources, can tag DNA and activate or repress genes. Histones are proteins around which DNA can wind for compaction and gene regulation. Histone modification occurs when the binding of epigenetic factors to histone "tails"; alters the extent to which DNA is wrapped around histones and the availability of genes in the DNA to be activated. All of these factors and processes can have an effect on people's health and influence their health possibly resulting in cancer, autoimmune disease, mental disorders, or diabetes among other illnesses.
Image provided courtesy of NIH Common Fund.×
Epigenetics focuses on processes that regulate how and when certain genes are turned on and turned off, while epigenomics pertains to analysis of epigenetic changes across many genes in a cell or entire organism.
Epigenetic processes control normal growth and development and this process is deregulated in diseases such as cancer. Diet and exposure to environmental chemicals throughout all stages of human development among other factors can cause epigenetic changes that may turn on or turn off certain genes. Changes in genes that would normally protect against a disease, as a result, could make people more susceptible to developing that disease later in life. Researchers also believe some epigenetic changes can be passed on from generation to generation.
The epigenome can mark DNA in two ways, both of which play a role in turning genes off or on. The first occurs when certain chemical tags called methyl groups attach to the backbone of a DNA molecule. The second occurs when a variety of chemical tags attach to the tails of histones, which are spool-like proteins that package DNA neatly into chromosomes. This action affects how tightly DNA is wound around the histones.
Epigenetic mechanisms are affected by several factors and processes including development in utero and in childhood, environmental chemicals, drugs and pharmaceuticals, aging, and diet.
View a list of active cancer epigenomics grants supported by the Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program (EGRP) in NCI's Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences.
EGRP joins with other NCI Divisions, Offices, and Centers and other Institutes and Centers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund grant applications submitted in response to FOAs. View the full list of EGRP FOAs.
In January 2008, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced it will invest more than $190 million over the next five years to accelerate an emerging field of biomedical research known as epigenomics. The NIH is making this a priority in its research portfolio. The overall hypothesis of the NIH Common Fund Epigenomics Program is that the origins of health and susceptibility to disease are, in part, the result of epigenetic regulation of the genetic blueprint.
Current funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) for the NIH Common Fund Epigenomics Program include:
- Functional Epigenomics: Developing Tools and Technologies for Cell-type, Temporal, or Locus-specific Manipulation of the Epigenome - expires March 28, 2013
- RFA-RM-12-026 (R01)
EGRP also encourages investigator-initiated grant applications on epigenetics and epigenomics topics.
View a video animation describing how mice are used to study changes in DNA that could also occur in humans and eventually lead to cancer.
The genetic similarity of mice to humans accounts for mice being a good experimental model to study cancer. Mouse models that mimic human disease play a vital role in understanding the etiology (cause and origin) of cancer. Results of mouse model studies lend evidence toward the next step in biomedical research that leads to early detection of cancer, new cancer drugs, and new combinations of treatments.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Epigenomics Gateway
Explore, view, and download genome-wide maps of DNA and histone modifications from a collection of epigenomic data sets.
- NIH Common Fund Epigenomics Program
This site contains links to epigenomics mapping resources, epigenomics and epigenetics funding opportunities, meeting information, and more.
Provides the latest epigenetics research headlines, methods, new products, and interviews with researchers in the field.
For general questions about cancer epigenomics, contact EGRP's Mukesh Verma, Ph.D.