Epigenetics: Epigenetics in Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology And Nutrition (EPaedGHAN)

Persons in charge:

Photo of Andreas  Jenke

Andreas Jenke

Children’s Hospital Kassel, Witten/Herdecke University, Germany


Aims of the working group: 

  • To promote collaborative scientific research in the epigenetics of GI health and disease amongst ESPGHAN members
  • To share scientific expertise and novel data within a working group, by establishing joint research protocols, collaborative workshops, educational meetings and exchange programs
  • To establish a key group of individuals with sufficient expertise and interest within ESPGHAN to study epigenetics in paediatric GI disease


Evidence is rapidly accumulating that epigenetic mechanism(s), e.g. DNA methylation, histone modifications and expression of non-coding RNAs, may play a major role in disease pathogenesis of complex diseases such as allergies, neurological disorders (e.g. schizophrenia) and autoimmune diseases, including inflammatory bowel diseases.  This is paralleled by substantial progress in understanding the epigenetic mechanisms through which environmental triggers (e.g. diet, exposure to toxins) can alter gene expression during pregnancy and in early childhood. Such mechanisms may ultimately contribute to the observed rise in many complex diseases. It is becoming increasingly clear that research in the paediatric patient population could provide a unique and highly significant contribution in advancing knowledge in this field.

Only recently are available methodologies beginning to allow researchers to investigate the potential impact of epigenetic mechanisms in complex diseases. These methods are partly being adapted from those used for genetic studies (e.g. next generation sequencing, bead arrays etc). However, in contrast to genetic studies, epigenetic investigations differ substantially in their requirements and demand highly complex data analysis. Specifically, as epigenetic signatures are less stable than DNA sequence and are highly tissue and cell type specific, sample collection is more complex and requires appropriate expertise on site. Samples need to be processed immediately including cell separation and in some instances chromatin extraction. Hence, appropriate local scientific expertise is required and must be transferred from a core facility to the place of sample collection or collaborating units. The lack of local expertise currently limits multi centre studies for larger sample collection.

The main aim of this working group is to develop a core European network, providing the platform to facilitate collaborative research into epigenetics of paediatric GI, Hepatology and nutrition.

Projects and other activity:

Current activities:

  • Regular working group meetings (usually bi-annually)
  • State of the art review article on epigenetics in Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (manuscript in preparation, to be submitted to JPGN)
  • Ongoing collaborative research projects in the fields of
    • Paediatric IBD (Cambridge and Witten)
    • Coeliac Disease (Naples)
    • Necrotising enterocolitis (Witten, Germany)
  • Epigenetics work shop (to be held in Cambridge as part of our autumn working group meeting, exact dates to be confirmed)

Ways to get involved / potential benefits:

If you are an ESPGHAN member and are interested in epigenetics we would like to hear from you. There are many ways to get involved and we are always keen to recruit new members who contribute to our mission.

Examples of how you can get involved:

  • Propose / initiate research studies in the field of epigenetics
  • Contribute to ongoing studies
  • Share your expertise in the field during regular working group meetings
  • Get support for your research related to epigenetics
    • Joint grant applications
    • Increase the numbers of centres recruiting patients to your study
    • Apply for visiting fellowships to allow your team members to visit another lab

Reports: -