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Epigenetic, epidemiology pioneer Andrew Feinberg named Bloomberg Professor

December 17, 2015

Andrew P. Feinberg

Andy Feinberg is one of the nation's most influential scientists and is considered the founder of the field of cancer epigenetics.

BME Professor Andrew P. Feinberg, MD, MPH, has joined the prestigious ranks of Bloomberg Distinguished Professors appointed across Johns Hopkins. The interdisciplinary professorships are created to galvanize people, resources, research, and educational opportunities to address major world problems.

Andy Feinberg is one of the nation’s most influential scientists and is considered the founder of the field of cancer epigenetics. During his postdoctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins, he and Bert Vogelstein, the Clayton Professor of Oncology and Pathology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institution investigator, discovered epigenetic alterations in human cancer.

Feinberg now directs the Center for Epigenetics, one of the leading research centers in the world. Cancer epigenetics has become one of the core areas of cancer research and therapy. Feinberg expanded beyond cancer research to create the first epigenome center in the country to develop tools to understand the role of epigenetics in all aspects of human disease.

Feinberg and his collaborators have shaped the landscape of our understanding of DNA methylation and other epigenetic changes, and their applications to epidemiology and medicine, and have introduced groundbreaking statistical and laboratory methods to the study of the genome. Regarding the latter, Feinberg is studying the epigenetic effects of spaceflight on the Kelly identical twins as one of 10 principal investigators on NASA’s Twins Study.

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Feinberg recently tested laboratory techniques for DNA sequencing at zero gravity in NASA’s reduced-gravity aircraft with successful results.

To explore the possibility of astronauts sequencing their own DNA on future longer flights, Feinberg recently tested laboratory techniques for sequencing at zero gravity in NASA’s reduced-gravity aircraft with successful results.

With Daniele Fallin of the Bloomberg School of Public Health, he has pioneered the field of epigenetic epidemiology, demonstrating for the first time how genetics, epigenetics, and the environment interact to cause disease. From the epigenomics of autoimmune disease to rheumatoid arthritis to autism to obesity, Feinberg’s leadership has positioned Johns Hopkins at the vanguard of this burgeoning interdisciplinary field.

As a recipient of an NIH Director’s Pioneer Award for scientists of exceptional creativity, Feinberg is now pursuing a novel idea that epigenetics might regulate randomness, varying how similar or different one’s offspring are, or how different the behaviors of cells might be within a person’s tissue. This could provide an advantage in natural selection in a changing external environment, and it also might lead cancer cells to survive internal changes in the body, such as metastasis and chemotherapy.

"The Bloomberg Professorship is a dream job for me," Feinberg says. "With my colleagues such as John Goutsias in Engineering, we are seeing a deep mathematical structure to epigenetic information, which connects nuclear structure to normal development and disease. With my colleagues in Medicine and Public Health, we can apply these insights to identify risk of disease and even new treatments for cancer that are simply not possible when one studies only the naked DNA sequence," he says. "By working with faculty and students across the university, we finally have the opportunity to understand the relationship between genetics, epigenetics, the environment, and disease — and to use this information to improve human health."

Dr. Feinberg holds positions in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s departments of Medicine, Oncology, Molecular Biology and Genetics, and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and the Bloomberg School’s Department of Biostatistics, along with his appointment in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, where he will be mentoring students and teaching an undergraduate course in epigenetics and epigenomics.

For More Information

The Hub, Dec. 15, 2015
JHU’s Charles Bennett and Andrew Feinberg named Bloomberg Distinguished Professors