The study of epigenomics is a core part of our mission at the Coriell Institute for Medical Research.

Epigenomics is the study of the sum of epigenetic modifiers that work on top of genetics. Chemical compounds added to DNA act as instructions what genes are expressed or silent in a given cell type. Cells in our body are distinguished by many epigenomes modifying the same DNA sequence. Errors in epigenetic mechanisms play important roles in development of diseases.

Our President and CEO, Jean-Pierre Issa, MD, has made epigenetics the focus of his life’s work, specifically how changes in our epigenomes affect the way we age, our risks for developing cancer, and how epigenetics can be utilized to improve treatments for cancer.

At Coriell, we’re continuing that drive. Our scientists are administering several research grants focused on better understanding how epigenetics can be used to predict, prevent, and treat certain cancers.

Coriell researchers are participating in a prestigious SU2C Catalyst® grant from Stand Up To Cancer for the study of epigenetic therapy in treating urothelial cancer, a common form of cancer typically found in the bladder. Supported by Genentech, this grant was awarded in 2017 to an SU2C Catalyst® team led by Van Andel Research Institute’s Peter A. Jones, PhD, DSc, which hopes to boost the effectiveness of the immunotherapy drug atezolizumab by combining it with epigenetic therapy.

Dr. Issa and other scientists from Coriell are also investigating the role of the microbiome in changes to the epigenome and its role in risk for colorectal cancer. This team believes specific components in the microbiome trigger errors in DNA methylation which lead to the development of colon cancer. This work is funded by a Research Project Grant from the National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Issa is also a member of the Van Andel Research Institute—SU2C Cancer Epigenetics Dream Team, a collaboration led by Peter A. Jones, PhD, DSc, of the Van Andel Research Institute, and Stephen B. Baylin, MD, of Johns Hopkins University, and backed by Stand Up To Cancer. This team is working to apply epigenetic therapies in combination with other treatments to treat multiple types of cancer. Other members on the Dream Team include scientists from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the University of Southern California, the University of Copenhagen/Rigshospitalet, and more.