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Joint International Journal of Cancer and Klaus Tschira Stiftung Lecture at DKFZ

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 - Prof. Peter W. Laird

Peter Laird earned his B.S. and his M.S. from the University of Leiden, the Netherlands. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Amsterdam with Dr. Piet Borst, and postdoctoral training from Dr. Anton Berns at the Netherlands Cancer Institute and Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch at the Whitehead Institute at MIT. Dr. Laird is currently professor of surgery, biochemistry and molecular biology at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC). He is director of basic research for surgery, and co-leader with Dr. Michael Stallcup of the Epigenetics and Regulation Program at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. He serves on various editorial and scientific advisory boards and is co-founder of ORCA Biosciences, currently Epigenomics, AG, and of TherEpi Corporation. Among the many important professional activities that Peter Laird is involved in, his committee work for the American Association of Cancer Research and the the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) should be emphasized. Not least, Peter Laird’s publication record shows a total number of 18,705 literature citations.

Laird‘s main focus is to understand the role of DNA methylation in cancer by using a multi-disciplinary approach. His research spans from studies of the most basic cellular mechanisms to divising new diagnostic methods for clinicians. Peter Laird’s current interests as Director of the USC Epigenome Center include the development of technology and bioinformatics solutions for genome-wide epigenetic analyses. As a postdoctoral fellow at the Whitehead Institute, he published the first demonstration of a causal role for DNA methylation in oncogenesis, using a mouse model of the human disease Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (Laird et al., Cell 81,197;1995). This work was cited as a “milestone” in cancer by Nature magazine (Nature Cancer Milestones, April, 2006). More recently, he and his group showed the complete genetic suppression of tumor formation in this model by reducing DNA methyltransferase expression. He developed several novel DNA methylation analysis techniques, including COBRA and a high-throughput technique called “MethyLight”. Using the latter technique, the existence of CpG Island Methylator Phenotype (CIMP) in colorectal cancer was confirmed, and his group reported a very strong association with BRAF mutation (Nature Genetics 38,787; 2006). They showed that embryonic stem cell Polycomb repressor targets are predisposed to abnormal DNA methylation in cancer (Nature Genetics 39,157; 2007, Genome Research 22,271; 2012). Laird and his group are responsible for all epigenomic data production within the large multi-institutional consortium The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) (Nature 455,1061; 2008, Nature 474,609; 2011, Nature 487,330; 2012, Nature 489,519; 2012, Nature 490,61; 2012, Nature 497,67; 2013, Nature 499,43; 2013, NEJM 368,2059, 2013; Nature Genetics 45,1113; 2013, Nature Genetics 45,1134; 2013, Cell 155,462; 2013). Further, they identified a novel epigenomic subtype of glioblastoma multiforme, called G-CIMP (Glioma CpG Island Methylator Phenotype) associated with IDH1 mutation and better survival (Cancer Cell 17,510; 2010). They used whole-genome bisulfite sequencing (Bisulfite-Seq) to comprehensively profile a primary human colorectal tumor and adjacent-normal colon tissue at single-basepair resolution and found that abnormally methylated CpG islands were concentrated within regions of long-range hypomethylation covering nearly half the genome, and coinciding with late replication and attachment to the nuclear lamina (Nature Genetics 44,40; 2011).


Prof. Peter W. Laird interviewed by Sonja Klein

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