Cancer cells on dna stand background. 3d illustration
Credit: Mohammed Haneefa Nizamudeen/Getty Images

The New York Genome Center (NYGC) announced on Wednesday that is has launched the MacMillan Center for the Study of the Non-Coding Cancer Genome (MCSNCG). The focus of the new research center is to study the role and function of the non-coding, or “dark,” genome and epigenome in the development, progression and treatment of a variety of cancers including breast, ovary, pancreas, GI, lung and hematologic cancers.

“This Center, with its leading-edge multidisciplinary approach—bringing together experts in genomics, engineering, mathematics, computational biology, and cancer biology—will dramatically advance the understanding of the role of the non-coding genome in cancer,” said Tom Maniatis, CEO of NYGC.

The new center will now dive into the non-coding genome which comprises 98% of the human genome and plays a regulatory role across a broad swath of human biological complexity including influencing the genome, epigenome, transcriptome, and proteome. It influences DNA organization and structure, genome accessibility to regulatory proteins and RNA, and organelle organization. Researchers at MCSNGC will delve into understanding these molecular mechanisms to understand how they affect the structure and identity of cells, along with how they alter interactions within the cellular microenvironment—including with immune cells—and how disruptions lead to diseases such as cancer.

The center was established by a gift from the MacMillan Family Foundation, and will look to collaborate with other institutions to focus on research that levarages the expertise of a variety of disciplines such as biologists, data scientists, mathematicians, and technologists.

According to a statement announcing it launch, MCSNGC noted that prior research into the non-coding genome has thus far focused on gene research projects, but has not taken an approach that examines the causality of the dark genome on cancer development, leaving many fundamental questions on the development and progression of various cancers unanswered.

“Decoding causality is fundamental to providing interpretable quantitative explanations of elements of the non-coding genome in cancer,” noted Samuel Aparicio, senior scientific director of cancer genomics at NYGC. “Biological problems of this nature require cross-cutting programs where investigators with a broad range of expertise are supported to collaborate and focus on building new measurement methods and computational frameworks to understand the complex dynamics of cancer biology.”

The center plans to promote diversity in this burgeoning research field and also offer internships and post-baccalaureate programs for training. House within the NYGC, the center will also benefit from existing NYGC collaborations such at the Polytechnic-1000 (P-1000) initiative which is studying the cancer genomes of minority populations to better understand the genetic diversity of the cancer. P-1000 seeks to address ethnic disparities in cancer researcher and diagnosis through a better understanding of how the disease manifests in these populations, which is necessary in order to take a precision medicine approach to treatment.

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