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11 months ago

2016 Spring/Summer Highlights of Hope

  • Text
  • Hope
  • Institute
  • Epigenetics
  • Neurodegenerative
  • Epigenetic

spring

spring 2016 van andel institute’s Highlightsof HOPE Coetzee’s research utilizes genomewide association studies (GWAS) to link pieces of the genome to physical traits, helping narrow down regions that may be associated with a particular disease. Dozens of pieces of genome variations—called SNPs— have been linked to Parkinson’s, and Coetzee’s research aims to narrow these SNPs down even further and define how they influence risk for neurodegenerative diseases. His work could lead to a roadmap for genomically-based diagnostics and targeted, effective therapies for Parkinson’s. Labrie, who joined the Institute in March from University of Toronto, also searches for risk factors. In particular, her research will identify abnormally regulated regions of the genome and investigate how these areas contribute to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, the two most common neurodegenerative diseases. Labrie’s discoveries could reveal the underlying mechanisms that contribute to the onset and progression of neurodegenerative diseases and provide new opportunities for early diagnosis and treatment. “Epigenetics may be an important Viviane Labrie, Ph.D. crossroads for both genetic and environmental risk factors for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases,” Labrie said. “We know that epigenetic marks are central to the function of healthy brain cells, yet do change within an individual over time and in response to environmental triggers. Knowing how these changes accumulate with age may be important in better understanding Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s—both of which occur later in life.” Building on a solid strategy Patrik Brundin, M.D., Ph.D., leads the Institute’s Center for Neurodegenerative Science and looks forward to applying the Institute’s work in neuroepigenetics to the Center’s three strategic areas of focus—disease modification, identifying biomarkers and restoring brain function. “As part of our efforts to modify course of Parkinson’s disease, we hope to learn about epigenetic disease mechanisms Patrik Brundin, M.D., Ph.D. that we can target for treatment,” Brundin said. “It’s possible we will find epigenetic biomarkers in blood or peripheral tissues that will tell us who is at risk for getting Parkinson’s before disease onset. We also hope to use epigenetic strategies in cell reprogramming in order to restore brain function. It’s truly an exciting and promising field.” GLOSSARY Epigenetics: Epigenetics is the study of how the modification and packaging of DNA influences which genes are turned “on” or “off” in a cell. Without changing the actual structure of the genetic code, epigenetic marks control the way genes are expressed. Some epigenetic changes are known to cause cancer and other diseases. 2 | Van Andel Institute Highlights of Hope

Searching for the Origins of Ovarian Cancer All cells in the human body have an “epigenetic fingerprint” that acts as a molecular memory. Cancer cells are no exception. By determining and comparing the “epigenetic fingerprints” of specific genomic regions of ovarian cancer cells to those of normal ovarian cell types, Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) Assistant Professor Hui Shen, Ph.D., plans to determine which of the normal cell types Hui Shen, Ph.D. are the origin of the cancer cells. This information will give scientists and physicians a crucial piece of the puzzle when developing new therapies and determining appropriate therapies. To recognize and support her efforts, the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF) awarded Shen the Liz Tilberis Early Career Award, a prestigious award given to junior scientific investigators who demonstrate a substantial commitment to an investigative career in ovarian cancer research. OCRF is the oldest and largest charity in the U.S. that funds ovarian cancer research. Shen joined VARI in 2014 after serving as a research associate at the University of Southern California. She plays an integral role in The Cancer Genome Atlas, a National Institutes of Health-funded, multi-institutional effort to characterize many different cancers. Shen also participates in the work of the VARI–Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) Epigenetics Dream Team. “Although researching the origin of ovarian cancer is complex, the goal of my work is simple— to better understand ovarian cancer and to use this knowledge to find ways to intervene earlier,” Shen said. Shen will be speaking about her work during the Institute’s A Conversation About Women’s Health: Common cancers affecting women event on Nov. 16, 2016. Save the Date! A Conversation about Women’s Health: Common cancers affecting women Presentation and Q+A with Hui Shen, Ph.D. Nov. 16, 2016 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Van Andel Institute – 333 Bostwick Ave., NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 Become a monthly donor online — it’s easy! Visit www.vai.org/monthly today to set up an automatic monthly donation. Your dedicated support ensures that we can continue to fight diseases and inspire young minds now and in the future—and offer hope to patients and families throughout the world. Van Andel Institute Highlights of Hope | 3

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