October 5, 2009

JHU and USC win $10.4 million to study cancer epigenome

The National Cancer Institute has awarded $10.4 million to Johns Hopkins and the University of Southern California to decipher epigenetic marks in the cancer genome. The joint five-year grant is expected to help scientists develop drugs and tests that target epigenetic changes in cancer cells.

Scientists at Johns Hopkins and at USC’s Epigenome Center will focus on all major cancers, including those of the breast, colon and lung. The data will be collected as part of the Cancer Genome Atlas, a program funded by the NCI and National Human Genome Research Institute to develop a molecular map of alterations in cancer.

“We’ve learned that in addition to the DNA damage that happens at the genetic level, cancers can arise because of abnormal changes that occur in the way DNA is packaged,” said Stephen Baylin, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and co-principal investigator with Peter W. Laird of USC.

Abnormal DNA packaging “silences” genes that confer cancer protection, and the Johns Hopkins–USC team will scan hundreds of tumor samples to identify the important locations where DNA packaging goes awry.

“The data may help us design better cancer drugs that reverse gene silencing and predict which patients would respond better to certain treatments than others,” Baylin said.

Related Web sites

The Cancer Genome Atlas:


Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center:



USC Epigenome Center: