2006 Recipient — Peter Laird, PhD

Peter Laird, PhD

Molecular Changes to DNA that Contribute to Ovarian Cancer

Project Summary

Ovarian cancer cells contain molecular changes that facilitate rapid and sustained cancer cell growth. Dr. Laird and colleagues have developed highly sensitive technology to detect abnormalities in one particular type of these molecular changes, called “epigenetics.” Epigenetics refers to changes in how the DNA is packaged and read, as opposed to “genetics”, which refers to changes in the DNA sequence. Epigenetic alterations hold much promise for developing an understanding of the molecular causes of cancer and as therapeutic targets and as novel diagnostic tools. For example, abnormal DNA epigenetic changes in what are called methyl groups on DNA can be detected in tumor-derived DNA in the serum and plasma of cancer patients. Dr. Laird’s research should contribute to an understanding of epigenetic changes in ovarian cancer.


Peter Laird, Ph.D. is currently an associate professor of surgery, biochemistry and molecular biology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and is principal investigator on three NCI R01 grants. He is director of basic research for surgery, and co-leader with Dr. Michael Stallcup of the Epigenetics and Regulation Program at the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. He serves on various editorial and scientific advisory boards and is co-founder of ORCA Biosciences, currently Epigenomics, AG, and of TherEpi Corporation.

He pioneered the use of mouse models to investigate the causal contribution of DNA methylation to cancer (Laird et al. 1995, Cell 81, 197), and invented two DNA methylation assays, COBRA (Xiong and Laird 1997, Nucleic Acids Res 25, 2532) and MethyLight (Eads et al. 2000, Nucleic Acids Res 28, E32), which has been issued a U.S. patent.
Dr. Laird earned his B.S. and his M.S., Cum Laude, from the University of Leiden, the Netherlands. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Amsterdam with Dr. Piet Borst, and postdoctoral training from Dr. Anton Berns at the Netherlands Cancer Institute and Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch at the Whitehead Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.