2015: James Davies
I studied medicine at Oxford, before moving to London to undertake specialist registrar training with an academic clinical fellowship in haematology and intensive care medicine. In 2012 I returned Oxford to do a DPhil on gene regulation with Doug Higgs and Jim Hughes at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine.
I was awarded a Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Training Fellowship to develop techniques to define the physical interactions that occur between the promoters of genes and distant regulatory sequences along the DNA fibre. These techniques are important for understanding genome function because the regulatory sequences that control when and in which cell types genes are expressed are often scattered over huge distances around the genes they control. Although it is possible to define the position of these regulatory sequences rapidly across the whole genome in a cell type, it is much more difficult to with the genes they control and this currently creates a stumbling block to deciphering the genome.
During the project I developed a technique for detecting chromatin interactions that was hugely more sensitive, accurate and reproducible than we had previously thought possible. At present it is the best available technique for determining high-resolution chromatin interactions. This gave us key insights into the fundamental way in which genes are controlled by regulatory elements. In addition the technique is able to determine the interactions of multiple genes in several different samples simultaneously. This allowed me to develop novel statistical methods for determining how the physical interactions change when the gene is activated. The technique should allow us to unravel the function of many of single nucleotide polymorphisms identified by genome wide association studies that confer risk to common diseases such as multiple sclerosis, type II diabetes and malaria.