Mapping the human epigenome in pursuit of medical breakthroughs

VANCOUVER, BC — Much progress has been made since researchers mapped the human genome over a decade ago.The information has offered insights leading to innovation in health care including new ways to treat diseases, but there are still many unanswered questions in the fight against complex diseases like asthma, diabetes and cancer.

Researchers believe mapping the human epigenome will help answer those questions and that is why Genome BC has contributed nearly $2 million in funding to the effort.

The recent release of 41 research papers in the field of epigenomics from scientists across the International Human Epigenome Research Consortium (IHEC) is a major international step forward in the search for major breakthroughs in the treatment and prevention of many chronic diseases.

Where the genome is like the complete database of genetic information inside a cell, the epigenome is a record of chemical changes that activates or deactivates a particular gene. The epigenome, together with the genome, are the elements that make you, uniquely you. Unlike the genome however, the epigenome can change in response to changes in your environment. This is what makes mapping the human epigenome important to understanding disease.

“Genome BC recognizes the contribution epigenomics can make to preventing, diagnosing, treating or perhaps even curing complex diseases” said Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, chief science officer at Genome BC and vice president, Sector Development, “This is why we have provided significant funding to this scientifically credible initiative.”

Canada’s research contribution to IHEC is coordinated through the Canadian Epigenetics, Environment and Health Research Consortium (CEEHRC), which receives support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Genome Canada, Genome British Columbia and other federal and provincial agencies. These papers represent the most recent work of IHEC member projects from Canada, the European Union, Germany, Japan, Singapore, and the United States. The collection of publications highlights the achievements and scientific progress made by IHEC in core areas of current epigenetic investigations.

“BC has a lot to offer in terms of genomics and epigenomics expertise.” said Dr. Lopez-Correa, “The advances happening right here in our own back yard are not only yielding benefits for British Columbians, but, as important, are leading the world.”

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