Molecular Biology

The primary goal of our Molecular Biology Division is to understand how complex interactions between the environment and the genome/epigenome contribute to human diseases. We are applying epi/genetic tools and methodologies in population studies to elucidate disease mechanism and to identify and validate biomarkers for disease risk or prognosis. Such work is of great importance in identifying disease-causing exposures, clarifying disease etiology, designing prevention strategies through lifestyle modifications, and even assisting disease treatment and management.

Our research is focused in two primary areas:

Cancer Epi/genomics: We incorporate environmental measurements (questionnaire, biomarkers), genomic/epigenomic tools (gene expression, SNPs, methylation, and microRNAs), and bioinformatics into large epidemiologic studies to systematically evaluate the role of environment on cancer risk and progression.

Placenta Epi/genomics in Fetal and Child Development: As an interface between maternal and fetal environment, placenta is the source of fetal nutrients and immune regulation, as well as a barrier for environmental toxins. Utilizing resources of several birth cohorts, we are actively studying how an adverse in utero environment, such as maternal stress or exposure to toxic chemicals, influences the placental genome and epigenome in relation to birth outcomes and child neurodevelopment.

Key Researchers

Jia Chen, ScD
Luca Lambertini, PhD
Yula Ma, MD
Maya Deyssenroth, PhD
Vasily Aushev, PhD
Qian Li, PhD


Deyssenroth MA, Peng S, Hao K, Lambertini L, Marsit CJ, Chen J. Whole-transcriptome analysis delineates the human placenta gene network and its associations with fetal growth. BMC Genomics. 2017 Jul 10; 18(1):520. PMID:   28693416 PMCID: PMC5502484. (read more)

XuX, Gammon MD, Hernandez-Vargas H, Herceg Z. Wetmur JG, Teitelbaum SL, Bradshaw PT, Neugut AI, Santella RM, Chen J. DNA Methylation in Peripheral Blood Measured by LUMA is Associated with Breast Cancer in a Population-based Study.  FASEB J. 2012: 26(6):2657-66. PMID: 22371529; PMCID: PMC3360146. (read more)

Lambertini L, Marsit CJ, Sharma P, Maccani MA, Ma Y, Gagne L, Padbury JF, Hu J, Chen J. Imprinted Gene Expression in Fetal Growth and Development. Placenta. 2012; 33(6):480-6. PMID: 22465419; PMCID: PMC3348252.(read more)

Marsit CJ, Lambertini L, Maccani MA, Koestler D, Houseman EA, Gagne L, Padbury JF,  Lester BM, Chen J. Imprinted Gene Expression in the Placenta is Associated with Infant Neurobehavioral Outcomes. J Pediatr. 2012;160(5):854-860. PMID: 22153677; PMCID: PMC3311768.(read more)

[IMAGE: Mixtures of chemical contaminants are among the numerous interacting environmental inputs that interact with an individual’s genetic system. The combination of these external and internal inputs generates a response that may influence cancer susceptibility and other health outcomes. Credit: image]