The People of Tulane Cancer Center Research

Melanie EhrlichMelanie Ehrlich, PhD
Professor of Biochemistry and Genetics
Founder of the DNA Methylation Society
Tulane Cancer Center Program Member

Contact Information
Phone: 504-988-2449
Address: 1440 Canal St., SL-31, New Orleans, LA 70112-2699

Biographical Narrative
We have been studying human epigenetics since the 1970's. In collaboration with Charles Gehrke, we published the first study demonstrating that there are tissue-specific differences in the levels of DNA methylation (5-methylcytosine) in humans (1982) and then the first report of a decrease in the overall 5-methylcytosine content in DNA from human cancers vs. from many normal human tissues (1983). Later, we discovered that cancers very frequently display hypomethylation of highly repeated DNA sequences. In collaboration with Peter Laird, we were the first lab to report that human cancer-associated hypomethylation and cancer-associated hypermethylation are not associated with each other, which strongly suggests that each contributes independently to carcinogenesis and tumor progression. Among our studies indicating an important role for DNA demethylation in cancer was a report with Drs. Martin Widschwendter and Peter Laird that strong DNA hypomethylation was an independent marker of poor prognosis in ovarian cancer, which was recently confirmed for mucinous ovarian cancer in collaboration with Dr. Elisabeth Mueller-Hozner. Our findings on cancer-associated DNA hypomethylation have been extensively confirmed by other laboratories. In our research, we have emphasized the importance of the often overlooked hemimethylation of DNA in normal differentiation and carcinogenesis and the ability of some moderately methylated sequences to become either hypermethylated or hypomethylated in cancer. We are also interested in the interactions of methylated DNA and proteins, including, the first report of a vertebrate DNA-binding protein with specificity for DNA methylation. Recently, our focus has been on the relationships between epigenetics and differentiation- or disease-related gene expression. In addition, we are involved in a collaborative study with Garth Rauscher on the relationship between DNA methylation marks in breast cancer and racial disparities in disease outcome.

Current Funding

2011- present: Louisiana Cancer Consortium Grant, DNA Hypo- and Hypermethylation in Cancer
2010-2015: NIH (National Cancer Institute): DNA Methylation and Differential Breast Cancer Aggressiveness by Race/Ethnicity, P.I., Garth Rauscher, University of Illinois at Chicago

Publications Record Via PubMed


1430 Tulane Ave, New Orleans, LA 70112