Public Health Seminar Series:

Epigenetics in Epidemiology: Lessons from the First Studies of DNA Methylation and Disease. by Stella Aslibekyan, Ph.D.

Monday, January 22, 2018 12:00pm - 1:00pm Calit2 Auditorium OCW Video Archive
Seminar Abstract

With the advent of commercially available epigenetic arrays, studies of DNA methylation have emerged as the new frontier in genomics, promising deeper understanding of disease etiology at the molecular level. The first wave of studies identified numerous genomic regions that are differentially methylated in the context of human disease. However, several questions remain, among them: 1) are the identified DNA methylation variants a cause or a consequence of disease phenotypes? 2) is whole blood, commonly available in epidemiologic studies, an appropriate tissue for studying non-blood diseases? 3) are methylation variants truly inherited or merely a result of in utero exposure to environmental factors? 4) do methylation patterns vary by race/ethnicity, like DNA sequence variation? This seminar will explore answers to these questions, synthesizing what we learned from the first wave of epigenome-wide studies and sharing evidence from current efforts to better characterize the etiologic significance of the first findings.

Speaker Biography - Stella Aslibekyan, Ph.D.

Stella Aslibekyan, Ph.D.
Stella Aslibekyan, Ph.D. Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Alabama, Birmingham.
I am an Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. A product of a public high school in the California Central Valley, I earned my undergraduate honors degree in Human Biology from Stanford (2005), followed by training at the Harvard School of Public Health (SM in Epidemiology, 2008) and Brown University (PhD in Epidemiology, 2011). Throughout my research career, I have focused on the "nature and nurture" question-- i.e. the interplay of genetic and environmental factors in the etiology of cardiometabolic outcomes-- and epigenetics provided an especially elegant paradigm for studying such interactions. Our group has led some of the first epigenome-wide studies of DNA methylation and disease. In that first wave of studies, we have identified and replicated numerous epigenetic associations with lipids, obesity, glycemic traits, adiponectin, as well as novel disease biomarkers such as trimethylamine-n-oxide (TMAO). My present work is dedicated to validating these novel epidemiologic associations using a two-pronged approach: 1) animal models and 2) Mendelian randomization 'experiments.' I have also conducted several pharmacogenetic studies of response to lipid-lowering and anti-rheumatic drugs, as well as studies of gene-diet interactions in the context of nutrition transition in Costa Rica. Currently, I serve as the principal investigator of an NIH-funded study of lipid metabolism that aims to integrate across the genomic, epigenomic, transcriptomic, and metabolomic data layers in a large epidemiologic cohort.

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