Alika K. Maunakea, Ph.D.
Research Division, Maunakea Epigenomics Lab
Phone: (808) 692-1048
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Dr. Maunakea received his B.Sc. degree in Biology at Creighton University (2001) and Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco (2008). He completed Postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health (2012) and has since joined the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa. In studying epigenetics for over 18 years, Dr. Maunakea has made several important contributions that have helped advance the field. In particular, he has developed and applied novel high-throughput, genome-wide technologies that survey DNA methylation and histone modifications, both central components of epigenetic processes, and has discovered novel roles for DNA methylation in regulating alternative promoter usage and in pre-mRNA splicing. In addition, his research has revealed that perturbations to epigenetic processes mediated by the environment may precede and perhaps even cause adverse health outcomes. Identifying epigenetically labile genomic sites that are altered early in disease progression and environmental factors that influence epigenetic processes will implicate molecular pathways involved in disease and enable personalized medicine. Therefore in his current position, Dr. Maunakea is applying epigenomic information toward understanding the mechanistic relationships of gene-environment interactions that underlie the development of diseases of health disparities, including autism spectrum disorders and cardiometabolic diseases, anticipating that such studies will contribute to the development of more effective targeted diagnostic, preventative, and therapeutic strategies. To enable such discovery and translational research, his lab utilizes next-generation sequencing and integrates this technology with epigenome-wide surveys of DNA methylation (such as MeDIP-Seq), chromatin structure and histone modifications (such as ChIP-Seq), and transcriptomic analyses (such as RNA-Seq). Through a systems biology approach, his lab focuses on epigenetic processes involved in chronic inflammation and neurodevelopment under various disease conditions in humans and uses experimental animal and cell line models to better delineate epigenetic mechanisms involved in disease etiology.