Most clinical studies benefit from taking repeated measurements over weeks, months, years. Researchers studying epigenetic disease processes in the brain don’t have that luxury. “You harvest the brain, and you only get one time point,” says Schahram Akbarian, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience and Chief of the Division of Psychiatric Epigenomics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “In this field, most studies are cross-sectional.”
Now, Dr. Akbarian is developing a novel method — longitudinal epigenetic profiling — that allows him to study epigenetic changes in the brain over time. The innovative idea has earned him the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s Pioneer Award (DP1), a five-year award that supports creative scientists who are pursuing pioneering approaches to major scientific challenges. The project, Single Chromatin Fiber Sequencing and Longitudinal Epigenomic Profiling in HIV+ Brain Cells Exposed to Narcotic and Stimulant, will use the new technique to explore dynamic changes in HIV-infected cells in the brain.
“In the last 10 or 15 years, research on the epigenetics of disease has taken off, thanks to modern sequencing technologies that allow us to study genome organization in a relatively cost-efficient way,” Dr. Akbarian says. “There’s a big need for more research on HIV in the brain, and I hope to morph this new idea into something specific and exciting for HIV research.”