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Texas A&M Creates New Epigenetics Center to Research Phytochemicals

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The Texas A&M University system has established a new center for epigenetics research aimed at investigating naturally occurring plant compounds as preventive agents against cancer, metabolic diseases, and chronic conditions.

The Center for Epigenetics & Disease Prevention (CEDP) was established by the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) Institute of Biosciences and Technology (IBT) with support from the Chancellor's Research Initiative.

Roderick Dashwood, an expert in dietary cancer prevention and epigenetics, has been recruited to lead CEDP. He previously was director of the Cancer Chemoprotection Program at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. Dashwood will also hold a faculty appointment with Texas A&M AgriLife Research, with an adjunct appointment in the Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

At CEDP, he will oversee work integrating nutrition, chemistry, and medicine to develop preventive treatments and pharmaceutical agents using compounds found naturally in food. A multidisciplinary and cross-institutional team will seek to identify phytochemicals in whole foods that inhibit disease or have other preventive benefits. When identified, the compounds will undergo quality controlled, large-scale production in preparation of human clinical trials.

Beneficial compounds will be isolated and then formulated with the aid of the National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing. Scientists from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Science will help separate and synthesize derivatives of beneficial phytochemicals.

Researchers from the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences will collaborate to perform preclinical animal model studies, and the Texas Institute for Preclinical Studies will then lend their help to screen these compounds in naturally occurring and genetically engineered mice supplied by the Texas Institute for Genomic Medicine.

The compounds then will be evaluated at the Gulf Coast Consortium for Chemical Genomics screening center at IBT to identify new hits for cancer prevention. Once identified, the best compounds will be used for testing in human clinical trails at the Texas Medical Center.

As part of the initiative, CRI has invested $9 million, which includes funds to recruit new faculty members and to create interdisciplinary ties across the system, including Texas A&M AgriLife Research.

"At the IBT, we now can start screening natural compounds for their ability to kill cancer cells and probe for epigenetic changes that cut across multiple diseases and chronic conditions beyond cancer," Dashwood said in a statement. "There is good evidence that natural compounds acting via epigenetic mechanisms will prove beneficial in preventing and treating many diseases. Our initial focus will be on cancer prevention at the earliest stages of the disease, but we have an eye on transitioning our research into conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, neurological disorders, and specific childhood illnesses."