Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Interview to Tony Kouzarides, Cambridge

This interview I made to Dr. Kouzarides appeared in the issue 6 of ellipse. He had come to the PRBB for a symposium organised by the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), one of the six centres at the PRBB:

Tony Kouzarides studies cancer in Cambridge, UK, a place he fell in love with while doing his PhD. He is now a Senior Group Leader at the Gurdon Institute, focusing on chromatin modifications. He is also a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation and of the Scientific Executive Board of Cancer Research UK. Kouzarides has also founded the companies “Chroma therapeutics”, a cancer drug discovery company in Oxford, and “AbCam”, an antibody reagents company in Cambridge. He usually goes only to 4 or 5 conferences per year, out of the 50 he is invited to give talks in. The CRG Symposium celebrated on November 9-10 was one of them.

What’s been the most exciting thing of the meeting?

Tom Gingera`s talk was interesting because of the fact that there are so many RNA transcripts coming from both strands of DNA and we don’t know what their function is or whether there is a role for them beyond transcription. For example, we do know that RNA regulates chromatin structure, so RNAs could also be involved in other processes related to DNA like replication, or recombination. The transcripts could also be transmitted to the next generation and then act straight away, for example setting up chromatin structure, without having to wait for transcription to start. This would be a very neat system because it has complementarity: it could go to the precise region and then act.

Define epigenetics.
The inheritance of traits that do not involve changes in the underlying DNA sequence.

What’s the next big issue in the field of epigenetics?

I think it is precisely to define what generates an epigenetic effect, what are the processes and the mediators, the inheritance components of epigenetic events.

What do you think of the PRBB?

I have been here several times and I think the PRBB is a fabulous place; the view is probably the best view from any institute in the world, and scientists are first rate. It is an example for the rest of Spain.

What do you think about science in Spain?

I think Spain needs more institutes like this one. There are so many good Spanish scientists abroad that need to come back. Spain is probably the fastest improving country in Europe at the moment in terms of biomedical research, but it still has some catching up to do. One problem is that money comes basically only from the government, and you can’t rely on it. You need people to contribute like they do in the UK. I’m thinking of creating a Cancer Charity in Spain –but that will need a change of attitude because people here are not used to donating money for research, as people are in the UK, for example, where Cancer Research UK collects 300 million pounds a year.

Will we ever be able to cure cancer?

We may not cure all cancers in the near future, but we will influence some of them considerably with the help of drugs developed intelligently, based on the knowledge we are gaining about basic biology. For example, there’s already a drug in the market based on histone deacetylase inhibitors, which are molecules that inhibit proteins involved in chromatin modification. And there’s more and more targets coming in. Intelligent drugs are already on the horizon.

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