School of Medicine

Jean-Lou Chameau, president of and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

UC Irvine epigenetics center host Saudi university president

Irvine, Calif., June 27, 2016 — In 2014, UC Irvine Center for Epigenetics & Metabolism and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) forged a partnership to advance research on how genes and metabolism shape our bodies and minds.

This far-reaching effort shows the potential to provide the blueprint for personalized medicine approaches, and on June 23, KAUST president, Jean-Lou Chameau visited UC Irvine to see how the collaboration is proceeding.

“Their efforts represent the science of excitement,” said Chameau, who previously served as Caltech’s president. “The partnering investigators are on the leading edge of research. You can feel the excitement.”

The collaboration 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.

UC Irvine researchers participating in the collaborative research programs are: Paolo Sassone-Corsi, director of the Center for Epigenetics and Metabolism and the Donald Bren Professor of Biological Chemistry; and Emiliana Borrelli, head of the UCI-INSERM research unit and professor of microbiology & molecular genetics. Saudi university collaborators are Valerio Orlando, bioscience professor and head of the Environmental Epigenetics Program, and Pierre Magistretti, dean of Biological and Environmental Sciences and Engineering.

The UC Irvine team’s expertise in metabolism, nutrition, behavior and neuroscience complements 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 is helping further advancements in the field.

In addition, the partners have organized high-profile international symposia on epigenetics, both at UC Irvine and at KAUST. These combined symposia, as well as courses and workshops on epigenetic technologies, are expected to proliferate.

“It’s been an amazing partnership,” Sassone-Corsi said. “We are delighted that President Chameau has visited our Center so he can see first-hand how much we value this collaboration. Our collective work will have a critical influence on the future development of personalized medicine and population health research, both here and in Saudi Arabia.”

“What’s impressing me the most is the impact that this research will make on personalized medicine,” Chameau said. “That’s the direction this work is taking – from the bench science to one day looking at a person’s own genetic information to make better health decisions.”

During his visit, Chameau toured the Center for Epigenetics & Metabolism – which is located in the School of Medicine’s Sprague Hall – and met with Judith Stephan-Norris, vice provost for academic planning; James Hicks, interim vice chancellor for research; and Dr. Michael Stamos, interim dean of medicine.

Tom Vacish / UC Irvine Strategic Communications