The CEEHRC Network is funded as part of the overall Canadian Epigenetics, Environment and Health Research Consortium (CEEHRC) initiative - a multi-stage funding commitment by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and multiple Canadian and international partners.
The Network is run by epigenetics researchers from across Canada. Our aim is to connect CEEHRC-funded and other Canadian epigenetics researchers and expand their reach to the broader health research community in Canada and beyond. We also host an annual meeting; facilitate access to CEEHRC and other epigenomics data; produce and curate epigenetic and epigenomics tools, software and protocols; and curate Canadian jobs, training opportunities and events listings.
The aim of the overall CEEHRC initiative is to position Canada at the forefront of international efforts via participation in the International Human Epigenome Consortium (IHEC), to translate new discoveries in the field of epigenetics into improved human health.
The first phase of CEEHRC funding established twinned Epigenomics Mapping Centres and Epigenomics Data Coordination Centres at two existing genome sequencing centres - the BC Cancer Agency Genome Sciences Centre in Vancouver (in partnership with Genome BC) and McGill University in Montreal (in partnership with Genome Quebec). The two sites focus on sequencing human reference epigenomes and developing new technologies and protocols; they also serve as platforms for other CEEHRC funding initiatives, such as catalyst and team grants.
The complementary reference epigenome mapping efforts of the two sites focus on a range of common human diseases. The Vancouver group focus on the role of epigenetics in the development of cancer, including lymphoma and cancers of the ovary, colon, breast, and thyroid. The Montreal team focus on autoimmune / inflammatory, cardio-metabolic, and neuropsychiatric diseases, using studies of identical twins as well as animal models of human disease.
Additional phases of the CEEHRC initiative focus on:
- Building epigenetic research capacity via catalyst grant competitions and various salary and training awards for researchers specializing in this field.
- Achieving excellence through larger-scale team grants focusing on environment-gene interactions across the human life course.
- Commercialization and knowledge translation.
More information is available on the CEEHRC website.
The DNA found in a single human cell is approximately 2 metres long. In order to fit into such a small space, the DNA is wound up tightly around proteins. This combination of DNA and proteins is called chromatin.
Both the DNA itself and the protein components of chromatin can be "tagged" with a variety of small molecules that affect how the DNA in the tagged region is processed. For example, some tags loosen the grip of the chromatin proteins on the DNA, making the genes in that region more accessible and therefore more likely to be activated. Other tags are recognised by specialised proteins within the cell that attach themselves to the chromatin and alter the activity of nearby genes. These effects can occur regardless of the actual sequence of the DNA in the tagged region, and can change over time. As with any other complicated control process, tagging mistakes can sometimes occur that alter gene expression and hence cell behaviour. This kind of mistake can lead to the development of cancer and other diseases.
The study of tagged chromatin is called epigenetics, or epigenomics when applied to the entire human genome. Thanks to advances in technology, scientists have recently begun to understand more about how epigenomic tags work, and how important they are in the regulation of gene activation. In contrast to the genome, which remains mostly the same throughout an individual's life, the epigenome changes during development and aging, in response to environmental factors, and as certain diseases develop. Thus, an understanding of what epigenome states exist in different cell types and how these states are achieved is critically important to many aspects of human health and disease.
More epigenetics and epigenomics information and resources can be found on the IHEC website.
Funding for this project provided by: