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Epigenome-wide association study technology

Epigenetic modifications (or marks) are chemical changes that cause our DNA to work in different ways. These may be affected by environmental insults, diet or even signals during pregnancy. In this way, epigenetic marks may be good next-generation indicators of health, disease and risk prediction. They are potentially very useful but also challenging to study.

It may be possible to use such marks to associate disease with genetic, epigenetic or environmental factors, using data from New Zealand cohort studies. To do this, we need to develop new techniques and tools for examining the information.

This 3-year project aims to develop world-class standardised processes to assess epigenetic data in large cohort studies in Aotearoa. This will also allow effective comparisons between studies and enable links with international research.

The project will establish and contribute to the dissemination of tools for epigenome-wide association analysis. As proof of concept, we will use the toolset to analyse existing New Zealand cardiovascular disease population epigenetics studies. Next steps are to run workshops to share our techniques, design and analyse population epigenetics association studies, and design translational pathways. Particular areas of interest are epigenetic effects of gastric-bypass surgery, statins and obesity.

Epigenetic marks may represent the next wave in understanding the function of the genome and developing health information from it. By developing a standardised approach in New Zealand, we can take advantage of our unique cohort studies in a way that is high quality and replicable, and enables us to better understand health conditions.

Epigenetic marks may also be useful in animal studies, and so links to another Genomics Aotearoa project, Better Breeding Values.

Outcomes

  • Standardised technologies for epigenetic analysis
  • Increased New Zealand capacity in epigenetics and tools available to all
  • Epigenetic studies with research outcomes useful for health
  • Internationally comparable datasets for key New Zealand cohort studies

Team

  • Professor Greg Jones (University of Otago) – lead researcher
  • Associate Professor John Pearson (University of Otago)
  • Dr Aniruddha Chatterjee (University of Otago)
  • Basharat Bhat (University of Otago)