News Release

Monday, September 29, 2008

NIH Announces Funding for New Epigenomics Initiative

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announces funding for the new NIH Roadmap Epigenomics Program. Epigenetic processes control normal growth and development, and epigenomics is a study of epigenetic processes at a genome-wide scale. The NIH will invest more than $190 million over the next five years to accelerate this emerging field of biomedical research. The first grants will total approximately $18 million in 2008.

The overall hypothesis of the NIH Roadmap Epigenomics Program is that the origins of health and susceptibility to disease are, in part, the result of epigenetic regulation of the genetic blueprint. Researchers believe that understanding how and when epigenetic processes control genes during different stages of development and throughout life will lead to more effective ways to prevent and treat disease. Epigenetic processes, such as modifications to DNA-associated proteins called histones, control genetic activity by changing the three-dimensional structure of chromosomes. This can affect gene expression as profoundly as changes in the DNA sequence.

"Epigenomics-based research is now a central issue in biology. We will build upon our new knowledge of the human genome and move towards a deeper understanding of how DNA information is dynamically regulated through DNA histone modifications as well as the emerging role of micro RNAs and other factors," said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D. "The grants now funded through this program will provide reference data that the entire community can use to understand epigenetic regulation and how it affects health and disease."

Diet and exposure to environmental chemicals throughout all stages of human development, among other factors, can cause epigenetic changes that may turn on or turn off certain genes. Changes in the regulation of genes could make people more or less susceptible to developing a disease later in life. (See scientific illustration of how epigenetic mechanisms can affect health at

"The Epigenome Program promises to uncover the fundamental processes that make a liver cell different from a muscle cell or a brain cell. Understanding these processes has far-reaching implications, from reprogramming of adult cells to treat disease to learning how environmental exposures during pregnancy increase a child’s risk of developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease,"" said Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

The Epigenomics Program is a trans-NIH effort led by several NIH institutes including the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the National Center for Biotechnology Information of the National Library of Medicine. Efforts of these Institutes are coordinated by the Office of Portfolio Analysis and Strategic Initiatives as part of the NIH Roadmap.

"The epigenetic regulation of gene expression is an emerging frontier in understanding human health and disease. The information generated by this Roadmap program will be an invaluable resource for scientists studying normal biological processes, as well as a wide variety of diseases, including cancer, autoimmune diseases, developmental disorders, and neurological diseases such as autism," said Samuel Wilson, M.D., acting director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The awards announced today focus on four areas: epigenome mapping centers; epigenomics data analysis and coordination; technology development in epigenetics, and the discovery of novel epigenetic marks in mammalian cells.

NIH Roadmap for Medical Research Epigenomic Program Awards Reference Epigenome Mapping Centers

These centers will map the epigenomes of a variety of human cells to serve as a reference that can be built upon to enhance understanding of disease mechanisms, provide additional insights into genetic susceptibility of disease, and identify potential therapeutic targets. The four centers receiving awards are:

  • Production Sequencing of Reference Human Epigenomes led by Bradley E. Bernstein, M.D., Ph.D., at the Broad Institute/Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Alexander Meissner, Ph.D., at the Broad Institute/Harvard University, both in Cambridge, Mass.
  • The San Diego Epigenome Center led by Bing Ren, Ph.D., at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, San Diego, Calif.
  • Integrated Epigenetic Maps of Human Embryonic and Adult Cells led by Joseph F. Costello, Ph.D., at the University of California, San Francisco, and Marco Antonio Marra, Ph.D., at the British Columbia Cancer Agency, Vancouver, British Columbia.
  • Northwest Reference Epigenome Mapping Center led by John A. Stamatoyannopoulos, M.D., at the University of Washington, Seattle, Wash.

Epigenomics Data Analysis and Coordination Center

The data analysis and coordination center will provide an informatics and analysis resource to integrate all components and provide the infrastructure for the generation of the reference epigenome maps. The center will be led by Aleksandar Milosavljevic, Ph.D., and Arthur Beaudet, M.D., at the Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas.

Technology Development in Epigenetics

These awards will support the development of innovative technologies that have the potential to transform the way that epigenomics research can be performed in the future. The principal investigators receiving technology development grants are the following:

  • Mark T. Bedford, Ph.D., University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas and Or P. Gozani, M.D., Ph.D., Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif.
  • Harold G. Craighead, Ph.D., and Paul D. Soloway, Ph.D., Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
  • Howard C. Hang, Ph.D., Rockefeller University, New York, N.Y.
  • Steven Henikoff, Ph.D., Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle.
  • Shohei Koide, Ph.D., University of Chicago.
  • Rihe Liu, Ph.D., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C.
  • Robi D. Mitra, Ph.D., Washington University, St. Louis, Mo.
  • Huidong Shi, Ph.D., University of Missouri-Columbia, Mo. and Kun Zhang, Ph.D., University of California, San Diego.
  • Alan Jackson, Tackett, Ph.D., University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, and Sean D. Taverna, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.

Discovery of Novel Epigenetic Marks

These awards aim to determine whether novel genome-wide regulating factors exist and whether such factors may be specific to a given cell type. The following principal investigators are receiving discovery grants:

  • Xian Chen, Ph.D. and Brian D. Strahl, Ph.D., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C.
  • Xiaodong Cheng, Ph.D., Emory University, Atlanta.
  • Patrick A. Grant, Ph.D., University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.
  • Richard Alan Katz, Ph.D., Institute for Cancer Research, Philadelphia.
  • Marjorie A. Oettinger, Ph.D., Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.
  • Alexi V. Tulin, Ph.D., and Kenneth S. Zaret, Ph.D., Institute for Cancer Research, Philadelphia. Peter E. Warburton, Ph.D., Mount Sinai School of Medicine of New York University, New York City.
  • Yingming Zhao, Ph.D., University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

For complete descriptions please visit:

Additional information about the NIH Roadmap Epigenomics Program is available at The NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, launched in 2004, is a series of initiatives designed to address fundamental knowledge gaps, develop transformative tools and technologies, and/or foster innovative approaches to complex problems. Funded through the NIH Common Fund, these programs cut across the missions of individual NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs) and are intended to accelerate the translation of research to improvements in public health. The Office of Portfolio Analysis and Strategic Initiatives (OPASI), in collaboration with all NIH ICs, oversees programs funded by the Common Fund. Additional information about the NIH Roadmap and Common Fund can be found at Additional information about OPASI can be found at

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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