This article was originally published on RogelCancerCenter.org on June 24, 2020.

Dana Dolinoy, Ph.D., received a $6.9 million R35 award from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The award is granted from the NIEHS Revolutionizing Innovative, Visionary Environmental Health Research (RIVER) program.

Dolinoy, NSF International Chair and professor of Environmental Health Sciences and professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, will evaluate the effects of environmental exposures on the epigenome and expand the repertoire of epigenetic editing tools.

If genes are the body’s hardware, the epigenome is the software that tells the genes how to work. Research has revealed key developmental periods that are important for epigenetic programming and vulnerable to environmental factors.

Epigenetic tools are instrumental in evaluating the effects of exposures on the epigenome and advancing precision environmental health, including therapeutics to treat a broad array of environmental and epigenetic diseases. Epigenetic changes to DNA are associated with aging (e.g. increased genomic instability), disease (e.g. Rett syndrome, cancer), and environmental influences (e.g. nutrition, toxicants). Dolinoy and her team are identifying changes in DNA, non-coding RNA, chromatin structure and gene expression after exposure to metals or plasticizers, with the goal of developing epigenome editing as a therapeutic tool to treat environmental and epigenetic diseases including cancer.

“This award is a demonstration of the collaborative efforts of my colleagues at the University of Michigan,” says Dolinoy, who is a member of the U-M Rogel Cancer Center. “We have assembled a team of exceptionally creative individuals with diverse scientific backgrounds which allows us to push the frontiers of epigenetic science.”

Working on the project with Dolinoy are several other Michigan Public Health and Rogel Cancer Center faculty members, including Justin ColacinoKelly BakulskiMaureen SartorJaclyn Goodrich, and Laurie Svoboda.

In addition to her role at Michigan Public Health, Dolinoy also serves as the faculty director for the Epigenomics Core at Michigan Medicine’s Biomedical Research Core Facilities.