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Discovering the causes of cancer and the means of prevention

Laboratory of Translational Genomics Celebrates 10th Anniversary with Symposium

Posted on March 01, 2019

by Jennifer K. Loukissas, M.P.P.

Speakers at the LTG10 Symposium. Back row (from left to right): Rouf Banday, Kevin Brown, Katherine Nathanson, Sharon Savage, Stephen Chanock, Robert Klein, Leandro Colli. Front row: Melissa Troester, Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson, Laufey Amundadottir, Michael Dean, Jiyeon Choi, Jason Hoskins.

In December 2018, DCEG hosted a day-long symposium in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Laboratory of Translational Genomics (LTG), one of the Division’s eight branches. The event highlighted the history of LTG and key discoveries by the LTG investigators and their teams, as well as presentations from three invited speakers prominent in the field.

Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson, Ph.D., Chief of LTG, opened the meeting with a reflection on the significance of the group’s name. “'Laboratory’,” she began, “highlights the fact that the LTG is the only branch in the Division where investigators perform laboratory experiments to better understand cancer susceptibility. ‘Translation’ is literally and figuratively our middle name and the heart of our mission. And cancer ‘genomics’ is our main area of interest, particularly in its relation to genetic variation affecting cancer risk. Hence, the LTG. Our essential aim is to translate findings from GWAS into knowledge of the underlying biological mechanisms of cancer, which can then be translated into improvements in cancer prevention and treatment.”

Speakers and attendees of the LTG10 Symposium.

Next, Stephen J. Chanock, M.D., DCEG Director and Founding Chief of LTG, recalled the branch’s origins stemming from discussions with Joseph F. Fraumeni, Jr., M.D., former Director of DCEG, Margaret Tucker, M.D., Robert N. Hoover, M.D., Sc.D., and others, on the critical need for a dedicated lab to follow up on the avalanche of data generated by GWAS. Dr. Fraumeni seized upon this idea and from that, the LTG was born, in 2008.

“With so many exciting opportunities, it was like drinking from a firehose,” remarked Dr. Chanock. “LTG investigators have been—and continue to be—a force of nature, systematically exploring scores of GWAS signals, implementing clever solutions to accelerate the pace of exploration and investigation, and training junior scientists—many of whom are now established in research at NIH, academia, and industry.”

To this day, LTG is unique in the scientific community with its specific focus on GWAS results, exploring the mechanistic interplay between genetic variants and molecular phenotypes important to cancer etiology and outcomes. The three investigators recruited to the LTG by Dr. Chanock—Laufey Amundadottir, Ph.D., Kevin Brown, Ph.D., and Dr. Prokunina-Olsson—have all been awarded scientific tenure by the NIH and are busy directing research programs in their groups with a cadre of post-doctoral fellows, staff scientists, lab technicians, post-baccalaureate fellows, and summer students. The addition of Michael Dean, Ph.D., who served as Chief from 2015-2018, expanded LTG’s focus to include viral genomics and how viral and host genetics interact and affect cancer risk.

Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson, Kevin Brown, and Michael Dean at LTG symposium panel discussion

Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson, Kevin Brown, and Michael Dean

Over the course of the day, principal investigators and members of their labs presented their work investigating the genetic underpinnings of cancers of the pancreas, kidney, bladder, liver, cervix, and melanoma. A postdoctoral fellow from the Laboratory of Genetic Susceptibility (LGS), which was initially part of LTG, also presented his research on kidney cancer. A common thread across presentations was the value of existing collaborative relationships with investigators in LTG, other branches in DCEG, and in the Cancer Genomics Research Laboratory.

Interspersed between the DCEG presentations were talks from three outside speakers who share LTG’s vision of translational genomics. Dr. Melissa Troester from Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, presented on “Predictive Biomarkers in Benign Breast and Breast Cancer.” Dr. Robert Klein, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, talked about “Using eQTL Networks to Understand Prostate Cancer Risk Loci.” Dr. Katherine Nathanson at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, gave a talk entitled, “From Soup to Nuts: Inherited Genetics and Testicular Germ Cell Tumors.”

Stephen Chancok and Sharon Savage at LTG symposium panel discussion

Stephen Chanock and Sharon Savage

To bring the meeting to a close, Sharon Savage, M.D., Chief of the Clinical Genetics Branch and DCEG Clinical Director, moderated a lively panel discussion in which presenters addressed current challenges and future directions for the field and offered career guidance to aspiring genetic epidemiologists in the audience.

LTG10: 10th Anniversary Translational Symposium

Agenda

Opening remarks by Stephen Chanock, DCEG Director and Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson, LTG Chief and Senior Investigator

Laufey Amundadottir, Senior Investigator, “Making Sense of Genome-Wide Association Studies for Pancreatic Cancer Risk”

Jason Hoskins, Staff Scientist, “A Network-Based Approach to GWAS Interpretation”

Melissa Troester, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “Predictive Biomarkers in Benign Breast and Breast Cancer”

Kevin Brown, Senior Investigator, “Familial and Population Risk Loci Predisposing to Melanoma”

Jiyeon Choi, Research Fellow, “SNP to Animal Model: Fast-Tracking GWAS Annotation with High-Throughput Screening and eQTLs”

Michael Dean, Senior Investigator, “Genetic Analyses of Cervical Cancer and Human Papillomaviruses”

Leandro Colli, Postdoctoral Fellow in LGS, “High Throughput Post-GWAS Approach Identified a New SWI/SNF Complex Member Involved on RCC Oncogenesis: From Apoptosis to Potential Immunotherapy Response”

Katherine Nathanson, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, “From Soup to Nuts: Inherited Genetics and Testicular Germ Cell Tumors”

Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson, LTG Chief and Senior Investigator, “The Translatable Genomics”

Rouf Banday, Research Fellow, “Genetic and Environmental Regulation of APOBEC Mutagenesis”

Robert Klein, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, “Using eQTL Networks to Understand Prostate Cancer Risk Loci”

Panel discussion about future of translational research moderated by Sharon Savage, Chief, Clinical Genetics Branch and DCEG Clinical Director

Celebrating the Founders and closing remarks