Epigenetics researcher honored by College of Medicine

College of Medicine dean Dimitri Azar presents Subhash Pandey with the Faculty of the Year Award

College of Medicine dean Dimitri Azar presents Subhash Pandey with the Faculty of the Year Award at Commencement May 6. Photo: Joshua Clark

Subhash Pandey was recognized by his peers in the College of Medicine as the recipient of the 2016 UIC College of Medicine Faculty of the Year Award.

Pandey, professor of psychiatry and director of neuroscience alcoholism research in the College of Medicine and director of the Center for Research in Alcohol Epigenetics, was honored for his body of academic work and as a leading researcher of the epigenetics of alcohol use and abuse.

“Dr. Pandey is a leading researcher in the epigenetics of alcoholism, and his work has led to important new insights on the effects of early drinking among adolescents, and the mechanisms by which it produces lasting effects including behavioral changes,” said Dimitri Azar, dean of the College of Medicine.

Last year, Pandey and his colleagues published a paper in the journal Neurobiology of Disease that found that binge-drinking during adolescence may perturb brain development at a critical time and leave lasting effects on genes and behavior that persist into adulthood.

“This may be the mechanism through which adolescent binge-drinking increases the risk for psychiatric disorders, including alcoholism, in adulthood,” Pandey said of the finding, which was made in an animal model.

Epigenetics refers to chemical changes to DNA, RNA or specific proteins that change the activity of genes without changing the genes themselves. Epigenetic changes can occur in response to environmental or even social factors, such as alcohol and stress — and these modifications have been linked to changes in behavior and disease.

Epigenetics plays a role in the development and persistence of neurological changes associated with alcoholism, says Pandey, who is also a senior research career scientist at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center.

In part due to Pandey’s interest and expertise in alcohol and epigenetics, the College of Medicine received a five-year, $8 million federal grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to establish a Center for Alcohol Research in Epigenetics (CARE). Pandey directs the center.

In the first year of operation, Pandey has zeroed in on another form of epigenetics that involves what is known as non-coding, or microRNA. These molecules may also be affected by alcohol and, in turn, affect gene expression.

The CARE researchers are also investigating how alcohol-related epigenetic changes influence “synaptic remodeling” — the networking of nerve cells to each other. They will also examine how these changes correlate with behavior, such as anxiety and depression, and whether epigenetics plays a role in the withdrawal symptoms that make abstinence difficult.

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