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Epigenetics: Righting the course of disease

Annual Report - Winter 2013

By Wendy Mohon

Taiping Chen, Ph.D., started reading medical research in college while pursuing a master’s degree in immunology in his native China. He hasn’t stopped, but now he’s writing it, too. And he hopes his research will right the wayward course of genes that form disease.

Taiping Chen, Ph.D. (left), works closely 
with Hongbo Zhao, Ph.D., a postdoctoral
Photo: Wyatt McSpadden

“It brings me great joy and satisfaction to develop hypotheses, design experiments to test them and see the results,” says Chen, associate professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Molecular Carcinogenesis at Science Park in Smithville, Texas.

His lab is also part of the Center for Cancer Epigenetics, for which 
MD Anderson, through the Development Office, raises funds.

Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression that happen without altering DNA sequence. This field of research includes chemical modifications of DNA and histone proteins that regulate chromatin structure and gene expression.

“I’m particularly interested in understanding the role of epigenetic alterations in diseases, including cancer,” Chen says. “Unlike genetic changes [mutations], epigenetic alterations are potentially reversible. This raises the intriguing possibility of correcting epigenetic states as a therapeutic strategy or epigenetic therapy, if you will.”

Researchers benefit from country setting

By Wendy Mohon

Many businesses call their facilities parks. Not only is the term in the name of Science Park, but the Virginia Harris Cockrell Cancer Research Center is also in the middle of Buescher State Park near Smithville, Texas. That’s truth in advertising.

The Science Park campus near Smithville, Texas.
Photo: Wyatt McSpadden

Established in 1977, the facility is now the professional home to nearly 300 employees, including 35 faculty, 19 postdoctoral fellows and 11 research investigators and research scientists.

But being in a pastoral setting surrounded by acres of trees does not always bring peace and serenity. In September 2011, Texas wildfires threatened Science Park. While several employees’ homes were destroyed, the research facilities were spared.

Programs at Science Park center around the cause and prevention of cancer and include disciplines such as cell biology, molecular biology, immunology, genetics, virology, microanatomy, epigenetics, stem cells and pathology.

Science Park provides post-doctoral, graduate and undergraduate research education in molecular carcinogenesis, toxicology and related fields.


  • The Friends of Science Park is an appointive board established to further the mission of Science Park through public relations and financial assistance.
  • A summer program allows academically talented high school students to participate in scientific research at the Smithville campus.
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