Danielle Gutman’s PhD thesis in Genetics and Epigenetics at the University of Haifa set out to characterize the genetic and epigenetic profiles of healthy aging and longevity using exceptionally long-lived individuals (ELLI). Epigenetics is the study of gene expression without changes to the raw DNA sequence.
As the first PhD student appointed to the Israeli Multi-Ethnic Centenarian Study (IMECS), Dr. Gutman worked with physicians and ethics committees to establish new research centers. She identified and recruited study participants, obtained and analyzed their blood samples, and interviewed them.
Since the main epigenetic modification she examined, DNA methylation, does not provide a comprehensive view of the healthy aging phenotype, she is turning her postdoctoral research into an investigation of RNA-mediated epigenetic regulation. She will try to identify when nucleic acid structures called R-Loops are formed in a stable manner, since even slight variations in the process can lead to the development of cancers and neurodegenerative diseases. Jointly appointed to The Wistar Institute and the Epigenetic Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gutman believes her work could potentially allow scientists to create R-loops to correct aberrant gene expression programs in many diseases. In the future, Dr. Gutman hopes to discover biomarkers for aging that could become targets for new custom treatments and medications.