Three takeaways from the Midwest Chromatin and Epigenetics Meeting

By Jason Knott, Ph.D., associate professor, Michigan State University
Chair, MCEM Scientific Committee

Earlier this week, Van Andel Research Institute hosted the 2016 Midwest Chromatin and Epigenetics Meeting (MCEM), which brought together more than 250 scientists from across the Midwest who study transcription, chromatin and epigenetics. The event provided a great opportunity to share the latest discoveries, to connect with colleagues and to foster new and existing collaborations.

Couldn’t make it to the meeting? No problem! Here are three of the top takeaways:

Cancer epigenetics and epigenetic therapies

Much has happened in the field of cancer epigenetics since the last Midwest Chromatin and Epigenetics Meeting in 2014 and certainly since the first meeting in 2006. During this year’s meeting, scientists from Mayo Clinic, University of Nebraska, University of Michigan, Case Western Reserve University, University of Florida, Northwestern University and Van Andel Research Institute shared their latest exciting findings on the impact of epigenetic deregulation in cancer and emerging experimental treatments for liver cancer, myeloid malignancies, hematological malignancies and leukemia. In addition, scientists at the University of Chicago showcased the role of DNA methylation and hydroxyl methylation in cancer. Collectively, all of the work by these researchers represents a tour de force in cancer epigenetics and lays the foundation for developing new and more effective therapies.

Epigenetic regulation in development and disease

Many of the genes and epigenetic mechanisms that govern early embryonic development in plants, yeast, Drosophila and mammals also are involved in disease later in life. These similarities are increasingly appreciated and were reflected in the outstanding talks from scientists at Harvard University, University of Michigan, Wayne State University, Michigan State University, Purdue University and University of Toledo. The speakers revealed new functions of Polycomb group proteins, ATP-dependent chromatin remodeling complexes, and Trithorax proteins in early development and cancer. Along with outstanding insights into these vital mechanisms (particularly in infertility and cancer), these speakers reinforced a simple fact—a multidisciplinary approach is increasingly beneficial in today’s research environment.

Outstanding innovation

From defining epigenetic changes in Alzheimer’s disease to uncovering viral mimicry in cancer to understanding the role epigenetics plays in the aging process and age-related diseases, epigenetic discoveries are revolutionizing the way we think about normal biology and diseases. These findings are powered in large part by dramatic advances in technology, a fact that was reflected during this year’s meeting. Speakers highlighted the latest and greatest techniques for studying chromatin structure and epigenetic modifications, including technologies for visualizing protein-protein interactions in single cells, chromosome conformation capture (5c) for visualizing genome-wide chromatin interactions, and the application of monobodies in epigenetic research. The insights garnered from these studies will go a long way in developing a more precise understanding of normal biology and disease such as cancer.


Thanks to the speakers, sponsors and attendees for making this year’s meeting such a wonderful event! Thank as well to my fellow committee members Dr. Peter Jones, Dr. Lori Pile, Dr. Yali Dou and Dr. Scott Briggs.

You can check out social media from the event by looking up #MCEM2016.