January 23, 2015

CMMG's Leonard Lipovich talks RNAs in second Australia guest teaching stint

The University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, hosted Wayne State University School of Medicine faculty member Leonard Lipovich, Ph.D., in September and October for the second installment of an instructional collaboration with the university's School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences' Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Kevin Morris, Ph.D.

Dr. Morris works on the role of non-coding RNA in epigenetic regulation of gene expression in human cells, and has two affiliations bridging the Pacific Dr. Morris' primary laboratory is at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and more recently he acquired a joint affiliation at the UNSW, where he hosts a burgeoning and highly productive group of honors and graduate students.

Dr. Lipovich, an associate professor at the WSU Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics and the School of Medicine's Department of Neurology received UNSW's Visiting Faculty Fellowship in 2013, teaching a two-week, hands-on practical in UNSW's undergraduate core molecular biology and genomics course that year. In his 2014 visit, he taught three half-day computational labs and three related one-hour theory lectures for the same undergraduate genomics course.

During his 2014 visit, he also guest-lectured about his research in a freshman course on gene regulation and epigenetics, and, together with researcher Marianne Farnebo, Ph.D., of the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, who was visiting the Morris laboratory during her sabbatical, spoke as part of the university's popular Friday biological sciences seminar series for faculty, postdocs and students. Dr. Lipovich had additionally given a fellowship guest seminar at UNSW in 2013, and delivered two invited lectures at The Garvan Institute of Medical Research, also in Sydney, over the course of his two recent academic visits to Australia. Faculty, postdocs, and graduate students comprised most of the audiences.

The stints all spotlighted Dr. Lipovich's work on primate-specific long non-coding ribonucleic acids, or lncRNAs, in human breast cancer and the three major international post-genomic consortia in which he is a co-investigator.

One, ENCODE (Encyclopedia of DNA Elements; www.encodeproject.org), is an international consortium that serves as the official successor to the original Human Genome Project. Dr. Lipovich also is in his second decade of working with the Japan-based Functional Annotation of the Mammalian Genome (FANTOM) Consortium, and in early 2014 he joined the CHARGE (Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology) Consortium, singlehandedly bringing all three major international efforts to Wayne State through his laboratory.

After speaking at an off-campus bioinformatics club in Sydney about lncRNA datasets in the UCSC Genome Browser, Dr. Lipovich was interviewed about lncRNA and primate-specific genes in human evolution for two episodes of Diffusion Radio, a podcast and radio show that airs throughout Australia. The episodes were broadcast by four radio stations in New South Wales and along the Victoria/South Australia border, and were also made available as a podcast online.

(Listen to the interview here).

Next, Dr. Lipovich will use his five-year, $2.3 million National Institutes of Health New Innovator Award, which he received in September 2014, to test a hypothesis that could lead to breakthrough methodologies to improve health. The project will identify primate-specific lncRNAs that are functional in cell growth and cell death, within the framework of human estrogen receptor positive breast cancer. The goal of the project, which has broad relevance to other nuclear hormone receptor pathways in human disease, is to reveal the extent to which non-conserved RNA genes contribute to cancer pathogenesis in humans.