Sharon Y. R. Dent
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology
Dr. Sharon Y.R. Dent serves as the Chair of the Department of Epigenetics and Molecular Carcinogenesis and was a founding director for the Center of Cancer Epigenetics at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. From an early age, Dr. Dent was captivated by pictures of chromosomes inside the nucleus of cells, and she was especially curious about how the cycles of folding and unfolding that are required for transfer of genetic material with every cell division are executed. This curiosity led her to the study of chromatin, which refers to structures built from interactions of DNA with specialized proteins called histones. These DNA-histone particles, called nucleosomes, not only allow compaction of almost 2 meters of DNA inside the microscopic cell nucleus, they also regulate nuclear processes such as gene transcription, DNA replication and DNA repair. Dr. Dent’s research has defined novel functions for histone modifying enzymes, which add or remove small chemical moieties to the histone proteins to impact chromatin folding and function. Her group played a key role in collaborative work with Dr. David Allis that identified the first histone acetyltransferase (Gcn5) important to gene regulation, heralding a new era in chromatin and epigenetics research. In addition, her early discovery that a yeast corepressor complex repositions nucleosomes and recruits histone deacetylases to gene promoters created a new paradigm for transcriptional repression. Examples of other key findings include demonstration of the first methylation-phosphorylation regulatory switch in a non-histone protein; discovery that histone modifications, such as H2B ubiquitination, can drive modifications in non-histone proteins, thereby directly participating in signal transduction pathways; and uncovering unexpected functions for histone modifying enzymes in mitosis and telomere maintenance. Her more recent work probes connections between histone modifying enzymes and human diseases, including cancers and neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. Dent has served on several scientific review boards and committees, including the Board of Scientific Counselors for Basic Science for the National Cancer Institute and review boards for multiple university affiliated cancer centers and research organizations. Dr. Dent holds the Ruth Leggett Jones Distinguished Chair at the UT MD Anderson Cancer Center, and she received the Presidents’ Leadership Award, the Faculty Achievement Award in Basic Science, and the R. Lee Clark Research Faculty Award from the cancer center. Dr. Dent received the BioHouston Women in Science with Excellence (WISE) Award, and is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Dr. Dent’s dedication to science education, in the classroom and at the lab bench, was recognized by the Paul E. Darlington Mentorship Award from the University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.