NeuroDevNet researchers prominent on international FASD epigenetics team grant

July 19, 2013

A five year grant to discover the epigenetic signatures associated with FASD will draw heavily on the talents of NeuroDevNet-affiliated researchers and co-leads of the network's FASD research group.

Announced this week by Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, the FASD grant is one of nine funded to examine the interplay of environmental factors and gene expression and their effects on health. The grants were awarded through the Canadian Epigenetics, Environment and Health Research Consortium (CEEHRC), a national initiative aimed at promoting Canadian leadership in epigenetics research. 

Dr. James Davie of the University of Manitoba is the principal investigator on the FASD grant, heading one of nine teams receiving a total of $21.8 million over five years. Funds are provided by a partnership including CIHR, Genome BC, Fonds de recherche du Quebec-Sante (FQS) and the Japan Science and Technology Agency. A priority for the team is engagement of First Nations communities in Manibota in research, training new investigators, and supporting trainees in acquiring cutting edge tools being utilized in the teams projects.

NeuroDevNet-affiliated researchers playing key roles on the FASD grant include network FASD research group co-leads Drs Joanne Weinberg (UBC) and Ab Chudley, who is based at the University of Manitoba along with Drs Ana Hanlon-Dearman, and Geoffrey Hicks. Network researchers Drs Michael Kobor (UBC) and Stephen Scherer (UofT) are also on the FASD team. The NeuroDevNet group is complemented by a contingent of researchers from the Canada-Israel FASD Consortium, the cross-disciplinary expertise assembled includes stem cells, neurodevelopment and neuropathology, epigenetics and functional genomics.

Working in concert, the team will focus on laying the groundwork for molecular targets and diagnostic tools for FASD. Through the development of an "FASD Epi-Code" - they will discover, characterize and validate potential epigenetic markers that signal permanent genetic modifications resulting from prental exposure to alcohol. Using differnt experimental model systems, including human and cross-species animal model work, the FASD Epi-Code will focus on conserved epigenetic signatures in neurons and other tissues that can predict abnormal fetal development in both animal and human models.

In the final phase of the research project, the FASD Epi-Code is slated to serve as the basis of an accurate early clinical test for FASD.