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Understanding epigenetics to develop new therapies

Conquest - Fall 2013

Building a community

By Hilary Graham

Sharon Dent, Ph.D.
Photo: F. Carter Smith

Sharon Dent, Ph.D., professor and chair of Molecular Carcinogenesis, has played an integral role in building capabilities and recruiting key talent in the epigenetics field to MD Anderson. As director of the
Center for Cancer Epigenetics, established in 2007, she’s helped foster a vibrant community of epigenetics research. Composed of more than 60 members, the center allows researchers to share unpublished findings and discuss their current studies at bi-monthly meetings and an annual retreat.

The center, which is generously supported by the Duncan Family Foundation and the T.L.L. Temple Foundation, also provides pilot grants, trainee scholarships and research allowances.

Dent is excited to be part of a field that’s on the cutting edge of cancer biology, specifically new technologies that are generating comprehensive maps of all epigenetic marks across the genome. This unbiased approach of examining normal cells and tumor cells, as well as cells from early-stage and late-stage disease, is elucidating how the epigenetic landscape changes as a cancer initiates and progresses.

This data will provide a road map of how the epigenome is altered and which factors are critical to driving cancer progression. By looking not only under the lamppost, but also more broadly at the entire landscape, Dent is confident that new targets for drug discovery will be uncovered.

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