Thanks to the human genome project finished 10 years ago, scientists now know the full genetic code of human DNA, but they don’t yet fully understand how this genetic information is used in creating different types of cells with distinct functions.
GENOME INTO EPIGENOME
DNA is the basic building material that is identical in every cell, but how do we create both brain cells and liver or lung cells using this same basic material? In this context, the genome contains all the genetic information, but not in a form that is readily understood. Therefore, a masterplan, or blueprint must be applied to instruct molecules how to create specifi c cells and this blueprint is called the epigenome.
In the very complex area of genetics, the Blueprint project is
aiming for big practical results which one day will take bloodbased
disease treatments to a new level. The partners, who
represent an exceptional body of knowledge in epigenetic
science, are working together to map the formation of infi -
nite combinations of blood cells starting from one common
genome. Among the 41 partners, nine are SMEs with vital expertise
for the success of this project. Ultimately, the project,
together with genome analysis, is expected to unravel many
of the questions surrounding the regulation of normal as well
as abnormal blood development.
SEEING THE BIG GENETIC PICTURE BY MAPPING BLOOD CELLS
The Blueprint project is focusing entirely on understanding the epigenomes of blood cells.
41 European partner institutes with world-class expertise are united within the project which
is the cornerstone of the EU’s contribution to the IHEC, the International Human Epigenome
Consortium. Around the world, other collaborative research projects are also active in the
fi eld of epigenetics, not primarily related to blood but other cell types, and all feeding into
They have an agreed goal and challenge between them to create 1 000 epigenomes. Collectively,
this will push the scientifi c boundaries much further and set up the next stage of
research into how the epigenome changes in disease, in aging and under diff erent (environment)
conditions and how it responds to drug treatments.
The hope of reaching such ambitious project goals in drug development is only possible with
some very dynamic companies on board that can bridge the gap between academia and
pharmaceutical companies. Typically these are SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises),
because they thrive in this middle ground. They are contributing unique expertise and technology
and also tend to be more fl exible and collaborative than large companies.
Sigolis, a small innovative company based in Sweden, has experience in the development of
microstructures for a wide range of areas in life science. The technologies they design may
in due time contribute towards clinical applications for diagnostics or prognostics.
Cellzome, another SME participating in the Blueprint consortium, has a strong track record
of developing novel compounds that alter the enzymes that read, write and erase the epigenome.
An article published in Nature in October 2011 explains their groundbreaking approach
and they have featured again in the March 2012 issue of Nature Biotech.
THE COLLABORATIVE POWER OF BLUEPRINT
A vast project such as Blueprint, means that researchers must draw on all relevant knowledge
and work across academic and medical fields.
It’s reassuring to know that around three-quarters of the participants are experienced not
just in their field but also in other European research projects. They know the challenges of
communicating between languages and cultures, but they also have a vision for the addedvalue
that this generates. Their commitment and perseverance ensures that the vision becomes