Purdue researchers awarded $1 million for epigenetics

May 2, 2012

Joseph Irudayaraj

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University scientists will use a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation to develop technologies for altering the epigenetic marks in the genome that turn genes on and off, work they hope will lead to advances in treating genetic health conditions.

The team, led by Joseph Irudayaraj, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering and the project's principal investigator, will also receive up to $750,000 from members' respective departments and colleges, as well as Purdue's Bindley Bioscience Center, the Purdue Center for Cancer Research and the Birck Nanotechnology Center, in the form of matching grants. The total $1.7 million funding will cover three years of work.

"This is another great example of collaborative, interdisciplinary research at Purdue that is pushing back the boundaries of an emerging area of the life sciences with potential applications in fields as diverse as medicine and agriculture," said Jay Akridge, Glenn W. Sample Dean of Agriculture.

"Epi" means above in Greek. Irudayaraj said that epigenetics implies the study of changes - chemical modifications - on top of the genome that signal genes to turn on or off without altering the DNA sequence.

"If we can alter the epigenetic modifications, we will have the ability to control the expression of these genes," Irudayaraj said. "We think this is the next generation of genomics."

Also involved in the research are: Feng C. Zhou, a professor of anatomy and cell biology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis; Sophie Lelivere, a Purdue associate professor of basic medical sciences; Ann Kirchmaier, a Purdue associate professor of biochemistry; and Amy Lossie, a Purdue assistant professor of animal sciences.

Zhou said the work would focus on neuronal stem cells. He said epigenetic signaling keys neuronal cells to either become neural brain cells or glial cells, which become a type of brain cancer called glioma.

"If we understand the code to turn on or turn off the glial cells, we may be able to tackle and turn off the tumor in the brain," Zhou said. "Understanding the code and how to turn on and off the genes is the most important part."The W.M. Keck Foundation, based in Los Angeles, was established in 1954 by the late W.M. Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company. The foundation's grant making is focused primarily on pioneering efforts in the areas of medical, science and engineering research. The foundation also maintains an undergraduate education program that promotes learning and research experiences for students in the sciences and liberal arts, as well as a Southern California grant program that provides support for the Los Angeles community, with a special emphasis on children and youth from low-income families, special needs populations and safety-net services. For more information, visit http://www.wmkeck.org

Writer: Brian Wallheimer, 765-496-2050, bwallhei@purdue.edu

Sources: Joseph Irudayaraj, 765-494-0388, josephi@purdue.edu

                  Feng. C. Zhou, 317-274-7359, imce100@iupui.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Keith Robinson, robins89@purdue.edu
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