University of Portland, 2012 - $19,200

An important process in the origin and development of both cancer and psychiatric diseases is a loss of gene expression through a mechanism termed “epigenetic silencing.” For example, virtually every cancer occurs in large part because of aberrant epigenetic gene silencing, in which genes critical for preventing tumor formation are turned off. Similarly, when genes critical for mental health are turned off, psychiatric disease ensues. New epigenetic drug therapies are based on finding drugs that reactivate silenced genes in order to treat disease. Growth in epigenetic-based disease research has been tremendous, and four epigenetic drugs are currently approved. These drugs, however, are focused on fighting disease in its later stages.

The Nzumbe E-Team is developing a novel technology to identify drugs that prevent and reverse the early steps in epigenetic silencing. The team’s major advancement is a technique in which drug compounds can be tested in quickly and effectively in virtually any living, diseased tissue. Current drug testing methods take months and have high rates of failure.