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Dr. Moshe Szyf, one of the preeminent pioneers in the field of epigenetics, provides an interesting overview of his life’s work and specialization in social epigenetics.

Dr. Szyf earned a PhD from the Hebrew University and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Genetics at Harvard Medical School. Working, researching, and educating through his James McGill Professorship and as a GlaxoSmithKline-CIHR Chair in Pharmacology, Dr. Szyf is breaking new ground in the field of epigenetics.

Dr. Szyf discusses his background, 40 years of scientific research in epigenetics devoted to understanding how genes can be programmed, with an intense focus on how different experiences in life impact their programming. Dr. Szyf’s lab proposed that DNA methylation is a chief therapeutic target specific to cancer as well as other diseases, and they provided the initial set of evidence supporting the concept that the ‘social environment’ early in life may in fact alter DNA methylation. His lab’s work essentially debuted the field that is known today as, social epigenetics.

The research scientist talks in detail about some of his early observations with rats, discussing how rats that lick their pups more frequently effectively alter their pups’ lives for when they become adult rats themselves they will have different stress responsivity and different characteristics. Thus, high maternal care shapes the lifelong behavior and physical characteristics of their offspring. Dr. Szyf’s work, as he states, is focused on fully grasping how these actions and behaviors alter how genes are programmed.

Dr. Szyf discusses the methods they use to study specific epigenetic changes, discussing in detail—proteins, DNA, and the various factors that impact genes and gene programming. Dr. Szyf talks about the many broad areas of application that the study of epigenetics can lend support to, from understanding aging to disease development.

Dr. Szyf provides a wealth of information on the changes in cancer cells, systemic changes, and the specific alterations in various genes. And he discusses epigenetic approaches to manage/prevent/intervene in cancer without needing to resort to the traditional, and toxic, solutions currently used to treat cancer in the modern world of medicine.

Dr. Szyf is the co-director of the Sackler Institute for Epigenetics and Psychobiology at McGill and an esteemed Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Experience-based Brain and Biological Development program.

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