Year of selection 2016
Institution Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology
Each of us has the same set of genes encrypted in our DNA. These hereditary units of information determine and control our body's characteristics and functions from birth to death. Understanding how genes control each of the numerous kinds of cells in our body is an incredibly vast and complex field of research, where much remains to be done. Part of the difficulty arises from the fact that our genes are expressed in cell type-specific patterns, which are regulated by epigenetic mechanisms. To complicate things further, these biological mechanisms are not simply messengers, they also influence the nature of the instructions our body receives from DNA. Understanding epigenetic regulatory mechanisms is central if we want to obtain a full picture of how our body operates, notably in case of disease. Building on his previous work, Dr. Iannis Talianadis aims to unravel this sophisticated network, both in normal and disease conditions. His focus will be on metabolic syndrome and liver cancer. The objective is to provide crucial knowledge to be used for the development of novel therapeutical approaches. As permanent holder of the AXA Chair on Epigenetics at the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in Crete, his aim will also be to bring together a pool of promising scientists from around the world and train them in state of the art epigenetic research.
"Our body has many different types of cells. Each of them contains the same genetic information, or DNA. However, all of these cells have unique characteristics in respect to their functions", explains Dr. Iannis Talianadis. "The difference comes from how the information contained in our DNA is interpreted. Out of the 22 to 25,000 genes contained in our DNA, only 10 to 12,000 will be expressed in one cell and determine its characteristics"."This is were epigenetics come into play", he continues. "Whether a particular set of genes will be expressed in certain cells and repressed in others is determined by mechanisms called epigenetic regulation". "These 'mechanisms' not only determine cell to cell type, they also determine how a particular cell will act in different environmental conditions, like starvation or disease for instance". This is exemplified by studies with twins. Although their genome is identical, one twin can be predisposed to develop a disease, such as cancer or diabetes, while another is not.
Unravelling the complex mechanisms that govern gene expression
"We are at the dawn of a new age of genomic medicine", Dr. Iannis Talianadis points out. "If we want to fully reap the benefits of genomics for human health, there is a growing realization that knowledge of DNA must be complemented by a detailed understanding of how gene expression is controlled". The aim of the AXA Chair on Epigenetics is precisely to shed light on this crucial biological mechanisms, whose true nature remains largely obscure. Indeed, during his previous work, Dr. Iannis Talianadis found that the mechanisms behind epigenetic modifiers were more complex than was previously thought. These findings opened new avenues in the field of epigenetic control with the potential to generate transforming discoveries. With the AXA Chair on Epigenetics, Dr. Iannis Talianadis aims to further investigate the newly found regulatory mechanisms he uncovered in order to obtain a more comprehensive picture. Along with the team of promising researchers he pulled together, they will study these processes in normal physiological conditions and under disease conditions. Their focus will be on two age-related diseases in particular, metabolic syndrome and liver cancer, whose link with epigenetics have been established.
By developing a leading research division devoted to explore new avenues in the epigenetics basis of liver cancer and metabolic syndrome, Dr. Talianadis' research will contribute to the development of innovative therapeutical tools for the benefit of patients suffering from these diseases. His findings will have tremendous implications for genetic medicine in general, providing insight into largely unchartered but crucial territory. Moreover, the objective of the AXA Chair in Epigenetics will also be to build up the next generation of epigenetics researchers and to raise public awareness about the importance and potential of the field.