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Environmental Health Sciences

Winnie Tang Epigenetics Laboratory

Epigenetics
Epigenetic regulation is the heritable change in gene expression that occurs in the absence of alterations in DNA sequences. The epigenome plays a central role in numerous biological processes, including gene expression, imprinting, and fetal growth and development. Image created by Nicolas Bouvier; courtesy of Genevieve Almouzni.
Fetus2
Origins of Human Disease
Epigenetic reprogramming becomes a determinant of origin of human disease, as there is a relatively long gestation in humans. If these changes conflict with the programmed “adaptive changes” made during early development, they may impede adaptability to later-life challenges and elevate disease risk.
Asthma & Epigenetics
Asthma & Epigenetics
Although genetic factors unquestionably play a role in asthma, the rapid rise in asthma prevalence suggests that environmental factors likely play an equally important role. We show that changes in DNA methylation can occur as a result of exposure of humans and/or mice to environmental triggers of asthma such as house allergens and diesel extracts.
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals & Epigenetics
Environmental exposure of various endocrine disrupting chemicals such as BPA, PCBs, Cadmium and Arsenic has been reported to induce hormonal imbalance, promote cell growth, and disrupt organ functions through epigenetic modifications of genes in specific cells/tissues/organs.

What is Epigenetics?

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Research Focus

Our lab's current research focuses on deciphering how environmental pollutants/allergen and dietary factors alter the epigenome via DNA de/methylation and induce chromatin remodeling, leading to cancer or other common diseases like asthma and cardiovascular disease.

Epigenetic Disruption of Gene Expression in Disease Development

Susceptibility of disease was believed to be determined solely by gene mutations, deletions, gene fusion, tandem duplications, or gene amplifications causing dysregulation of gene expression that underlies the genesis of disease. However, it has recently become clear that epigenetic disruption of gene expression plays an equally important role in the development of disease. Epigenetic reprogramming becomes one of the determinant of origins of human disease as there is a relatively long gestation, a period of postnatal and perhaps life-time allow for prolonged interactions with the environment including hypo- or hyper-nourishment, infection, hormonal, drug, or toxin exposures. It is believed that genes altered by environment may be "transmitted" to next generation via epigenetic alteration.

Translating Epigenetic Studies to Human Population Studies

Results from the epigenetic studies in laboratory can be further validated in populations. For example, many epidemiological studies showed the association between environmental exposure and complex diseases like type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, hypertension, asthma and cancer. It is believed that genes altered by environment may be "transmitted" to next generation via epigenetic alteration. Therefore, our ultimate goal is translating our epigenetic studies to human population studies. It helps to improve the use of the diagnostic technologies and establishes new pharmacological approach for the diseases.