The Issa & Jelinek Lab

The Issa & Jelinek Lab investigates the many ways in which the epigenome plays a role in our health, from cancer development to the aging process. In studying epigenetics — that is, studying how portions of our genome are activated and deactivated — the lab seeks to better understand how human health is impacted by and can potentially be improved with changes to the epigenome.

Our work has been funded by grants from many sources, from the National Institutes of Health to private foundations such as Stand Up to Cancer. Most recently, we are the proud first-ever epigenetically focused recipient of an NIH SPORE (Specialized Programs of Research Excellence) Grant. The SPORE funding provides our researchers the means to conduct basic and clinical projects with collaborators across the country that focus on epigenetic approaches to the treatment of cancers.


As part of the lab’s ongoing work, we are investigating the role that the microbiome plays in the development of colorectal cancers. We believe that certain microbiota and microbiome conditions that have been observed as especially prevalent in colorectal cancers can precipitate abnormal DNA methylation, an epigenetic process that has long-term effects on gene expression. In investigating this proposed microbiome-influenced DNA methylation, we can identify the mechanisms of tumorigenesis and develop preventative measures.

Our work in cancer and cancer prevention also extends to our research in important regulators of gene expression called cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs), particularly CDK-9. We have observed that inhibition of CDK-9 in myeloid leukemia cases induces epigenetic effects that inhibit oncogenic expression, activate tumor suppression, and create interferon immune signatures of cancer, thus facilitating the development of cancer immunotherapies. The lab is engaged in preclinical and clinical trials in CDK-9-inhibiting drugs to further investigate their efficacy as an effective epigenetic cancer therapy.

Opioid Use Disorder

We are also investigating epigenetics as they relate to yet another life-threatening condition: Opioid Use Disorder, or OUD. As part of the Camden Opioid Research Initiative, sponsored by the state of New Jersey, the Issa Lab investigates the potential epigenetic drivers of opioid use disorder and opioid overdose events. In particular, we are interested in the nucleus accumbens — a part of the brain closely involved in the dopamine system and reward pathways — for epigenetic changes following opioid overdose events.


As epigeneticists, we are acutely interested in how changes in the epigenome affect the speed of aging. We are engaged in exciting work that seeks to identify biomarkers of “biological age” as determined by DNA methylation patterns. Additionally, this research examines risk factors associated with age-related methylation that can be mitigated with preventive care and careful attention to environmental exposure to methylation drivers. We also seek to identify markers of age-associated frailty in the hope of mitigating adverse outcomes and informing therapeutic decisions in senior care.

Our lab’s work is supported by state-of-the-art core facilities of the Coriell Institute. Bioinformatics, Genomics and Epigenomics, and Flow Cytometry and Cell Sorting Cores provide critical infrastructure support for all of our projects.

Join the Team

We’re always looking for talented researchers with interests in the Issa Lab’s work to join us! Contact our Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Jaroslav Jelinek, to see if you’d be a good fit.