With nearly 2,200 of the world’s leading molecular pathology professionals in attendance, this year’s Association for Molecular Pathology (AMP) Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City November 15-18 was the largest ever. AMP joined FASEB as a member society in 2013.
The theme of this year’s meeting was “Where Molecular Leads Medicine to Best Patient Care.” The program featured six designated paths for attendees: cancer/oncology, infectious diseases, informatics, inherited conditions, molecular technologies, and laboratory management.
Award for Excellence in Molecular Diagnostics
On November 16, the keynote presentation was delivered by this year’s AMP Award for Excellence in Molecular Diagnostics winner, Andrew P. Feinberg, MD, MPH, Director of the Center for Epigenetics and Bloomberg Distinguished Professor, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Whiting School of Engineering, and Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Feinberg earned the award for his seminal scientific discoveries and countless contributions to the field of epigenetics, which is the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.
AMP President Federico Monzon, MD, introduced Feinberg by saying, “Over the course of his career, Dr. Feinberg has fundamentally transformed our understanding of epigenetics and the role it plays in cancer and many complex diseases. He is a true trailblazer in the field and his work continues to influence and inspire the next generation of clinical molecular diagnostic professionals.”
Basis of Human Disease and Implications for Medical Practice
Feinberg’s keynote focused on the epigenetic basis of common human disease and the future of clinical diagnostics. He began by discussing the basis of phenotypic variation and how tissue-specific developmental changes are influenced by the environment. “Unlike the genome, the epigenome is very sensitive to a number of environmental factors, especially in early development, and that sets permanent programs through life. This is an important area to consider when considering the basis of human disease,” said Feinberg.
Cancer is an environmentally driven disease that arises, in part, from repeated changes in the microenvironment or large-scale changes in the epigenome. “There is no question that epigenetic changes play a causal role in cancer and that information can be used for screening for cancer and risk for cancer,” said Feinberg.
By combining genome-wide and epigenome-wide association studies, new mechanisms in autoimmune, metabolic, and other common diseases have been uncovered. “Now you can identify the specific genetic variants that regulate the methylation,” he said.
A better understanding of epigenetics will make it easier to assess environmental causes of disease in adults, as well as the effects of in utero and transgenerational exposure. It will also help improve our ability to predict therapeutic response for each individual patient. Feinberg commented that these findings could “perhaps make medical therapy less empirical and more individualized.”