By Neale McDevitt
Long at the forefront of groundbreaking epigenetics research, the McGill University and Génome Québec Innovation Centre has solidified its position as a hub of important scientific collaboration that promises to unlock the mysteries of some of our world’s most devastating diseases. Epigentics explores how the environment – including diet, exposure to contaminants and social conditions such as poverty – can have a long-term impact on the activity of our genes.
Yesterday, in the atrium of the Innovation Centre, the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health, announced that the Harper Government and its partners would be investing some $41 million over six years to go toward epigenetic research. Two platforms led by McGill-Génome Québec researchers will receive almost $7.5 million in total funding.
“Our Government is proud to support research that will help build a more complete picture of the causes of human illnesses, specifically chronic and complex diseases including cancer, diabetes and mental illness,” said Minister Aglukkaq. “The goal of this research is to discover new treatments that improve the health of Canadians.”
Calling it “a great day,” Principal Heather Munroe-Blum said the initiative was important to McGill, Génome Québec and Canada.
“I would like to thank the Government of Canada, CIHR and Génome Québec for the support they are providing to advance the leading research being conducted at the McGill University and Génome Québec Innovation Centre,” said Munroe-Blum. “This continued funding is important in bringing the benefits of Canada’s expertise in genomics and epigenetics research to society. We are collectively dedicated to innovation and excellence in this field, and to building on our nation’s international leadership.”
The funding will support a Multidimensional Epigenomics Mapping Centre, led by Mark Lathrop, Scientific Director at the Innovation Centre, together with Tomi Pastinen, Canada Research Chair in Human Genetics, and Michael Meaney, James McGill Professor and Associate Director of the Douglas Institute Research Centre. This platform will receive $5,985,000 to study how the genome deploys hundreds of different programs leading to different fates in cell development. Lathrop and his team will use epigenome mapping to understand interactions between environment and genome in human blood cells, to interpret diseases impacting metabolism using tissue samples and to study how epigenetic changes can alter function of the brain.
The Epigenomic Data Coordination Centre, led by Guillaume Bourque, Bioinformatics Director at the Innovation Centre, with Alan Evans, Professor, Neurology and Neurosurgery, will receive $1,470,533 to develop a framework that leverages Compute Canada’s national resources to support large-scale processing, sharing and visualization of epigenomics data. The platform will enable epigenetics researchers around the country to use this valuable resource.
“This funding will maintain Canadian leadership in epigenomics, a field that is key for deciphering how the conditions in which we live can control expression of our genes and influence our health and well-being,” said Lathrop.