Taiping Chen, PhD

  • Recruited to: The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • Recruited from: Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research
  • Award: Rising Star

Dr. Taiping Chen is a geneticist and molecular biologist who studies the regulation and biological functions of epigenetic mechanisms, particularly DNA methylation and histone modifications, in the mammalian system. He was recruited from Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research (Cambridge, Massachusetts) in September 2011 to the Department of Molecular Carcinogenesis at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at Science Park, Smithville.

Taiping grew up and received his undergraduate education in China. Fascinated by biomedical research and determined to pursue a research career, he came to North America in 1994 for further education and training. His journey started at The University of Texas at El Paso, where he conducted research on the biochemistry of snake venom proteases and received an MS degree. In 1996, he moved to Canada to pursue his PhD degree at McGill University, where he characterized the biochemical properties and biological functions of the GSG/STAR family of RNA-binding proteins. He graduated with honor and obtained his PhD in 2000. He then joined the laboratory of Dr. En Li at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, where he gained expertise in epigenetics and mouse genetics. Supported by postdoctoral fellowships from the Human Frontier Science Program and Canadian Institutes of Health Research, he conducted research on how DNA methylation is regulated in mammals. He made contributions in identifying DNA methyltransferase (DNMT) isoforms, defining the biological functions of DNMTs, and unraveling the interplays between the DNA methylation machinery and other epigenetic factors, including histone modifiers, chromatin remodelers, and non-coding RNAs. In early 2004, Dr. Chen was recruited to Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research as a laboratory head. The research in his group focused on the roles of epigenetic modifiers in mammalian development and human diseases. Work from his group has led to a better understanding of the crosstalk and cooperation between DNA methylation and histone modifications during mouse embryogenesis and gametogenesis, as well as in human cancer cells. For example, his group recently demonstrated that demethylation of histone H3 lysine 4 (H3K4) by lysine demethylase 1B (KDM1B, also known as LSD2 or AOF1) is required for setting up DNA methylation in the female germline. This study provided genetic evidence, for the first time, that histone lysine methylation is involved in the establishment of genomic imprinting.

Dr. Chen is excited to bring his talent back to the state of Texas. At M.D. Anderson, he will continue to use genetic, biochemical, and system biology approaches to address the roles of epigenetic modifications in development, physiology and cancer. He is particularly interested in elucidating 1) the mechanisms involved in epigenetic reprogramming during early embryogenesis and in the germline, 2) the roles of epigenetic modifiers in the functions of stem cells, including cancer stem cells, and 3) the mechanisms by which epigenetic alterations drive cancer formation and influence cancer progression. Unlike genetic mutations, epigenetic alterations are potentially reversible, raising the possibility of correcting epigenetic states as a therapeutic approach. Dr. Chen’s research program will lead to the identification of potential targets for cancer prevention and treatment.