Lisa Helbling Chadwick, Ph.D. (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/dert/cospb/staff/chadwick/index.cfm)
Tel (850) 727-7218
Fax (301) 451-5392
Frederick (Fred) Tyson, Ph.D. (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/dert/cospb/staff/tyson/index.cfm)
Tel (919) 541-0176
Fax (919) 316-4606
Our DNA, which we inherit from our parents, stores the information necessary to keep our bodies functioning and determines much about our health status. This information is in the form of genes, and during gene expression the DNA code is translated into proteins that carry out specific cell activities. Factors such as diet, aging, stress, or exposure to chemicals can affect a person’s DNA in multiple ways that influence the development of diseases like cancer or asthma.
Epigenetics is the study of changes in the way information stored in DNA is expressed, without direct modification of the genetic code. Some epigenetic changes are part of normal development and aging, but environmental health scientists are most concerned with studying how environmental factors can cause negative epigenetic changes.
The NIEHS environmental epigenetics program provides funding for a variety of research projects that use state-of-the-art technologies to analyze epigenetic changes caused by environmental exposures. These NIEHS-funded researchers use animals, cell cultures, and human tissue samples to pinpoint how epigenetic changes could lead to harmful health effects , and perhaps, be passed down to the next generation.
Epigenomics research focuses on analyzing epigenetic changes across many genes in a single cell or all the cells in an entire organism. The Roadmap Epigenomics Program is a trans-NIH program administered by NIEHS and other NIH Institutes and Centers. This program investigates epigenetic changes across genomes and correlates the presence or absence of specific changes with the development of disease. One major goal of the Roadmap Epigenomics is developing a set of reference epigenomes for normal human tissues and cell types for comparison with diseased tissues and cells. Projects funded by the NIEHS in this program are contributing reference epigenomes and are investigating how epigenetic changes caused by various environmental exposures can lead to disease.
These combined efforts in epigenetics and epigenomics research may profoundly alter the way we understand, diagnose, and treat disease by enhancing our understanding of the influence of environmental factors on epigenetic processes and their subsequent involvement in human health and disease.