School of Medicine

Forging a new partnership

UC Irvine Center for Epigenetics & Metabolism
The UC Irvine Center for Epigenetics & Metabolism and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology have formed a partnership expected to lead to advanced research in both countries.

Epigenetics Center to work with Saudi university

June 27, 2014 — The Center for Epigenetics & Metabolism at UC Irvine and a prestigious Saudia Arabian university have agreed to a partnership to advance research on how genes and metabolism shape our bodies and minds.

The collaboration with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is supported by an initial four-year gift from the  Saudi university, which is located in the coastal city of Thuwal, 50 miles north of Jeddah, the nation's second largest city.

In addition to the UC Irvine partnership, KAUST hosts scientists from all over the world to conduct high-profile research related to water, food, energy and the environment.

UC Irvine researchers participating in the collaborative research programs are: Paolo Sassone-Corsi, director of the Center for Epigenetics and Metabolism (CEM) and the Donald Bren Professor of Biological Chemistry; and Emiliana Borrelli, a professor of microbiology & molecular genetics.

Saudi university collaborators are Valerio Orlando, bioscience professor and head of the Environmental Epigenetics Program, and Pierre J. Magistretti, dean of Biological and Environmental Sciences and Engineering.

"Epigenetics is unearthing some fascinating links between the genes we are born with and the processes of metabolism that help shape our bodies and minds," Magistretti said. "KAUST is excited to bring expertise to this partnership through its work in fundamental cellular processes that underlie epigenetic and metabolic mechanisms."

As part of this collaboration, CEM researchers will bring proficiency in metabolism, nutrition, behavior and neuroscience, complementing KAUST's Environmental Epigenetics Program, which focuses on cell plasticity, metabolism, adaptation and behavior. An exchange program for students, post-doctoral fellows and sabbatical professors will help further advancements in the field.

The partnership is ideally positioned to perform next-generation research in epigenetics, Sassone-Corsi said.

The KAUST partnership is the latest international collaborative research effort by Sassone-Corsi and Borrelli, who receive support and work with research teams from INSERM, the French government's science agency, and Germany's Max Planck Society, one of the world's most prestigious scientific groups.

CEM periodically organizes a high-profile international symposium on epigenetics. In the future, this event will become a joint KAUST-UC Irvine conference. These symposia are held at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering, which is adjacent to the UC Irvine campus. These combined symposia, as well as courses and workshops on epigenetic technologies, are expected to proliferate.

"The newly established partnership between the Center for Epigenetics and Metabolism at UC Irvine and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology fulfills two major aspects of our mission," said Dr. Ralph V. Clayman, outgoing dean of the UC Irvine School of Medicine.

"It provides for unique scientific collaboration," Clayman said, adding that "student exchange, sabbatical professorships and the annual international congress on epigenetic control should further enrich this collaboration, providing benefits to both institutions. I look forward to the scientific progress that this association will produce."