Molecular Biosciences welcomes Maged Zeineldin to faculty

Maged Zeineldin will serve as an assistant professor in KU’s Department of Molecular Biosciences starting in August of 2024. Along with teaching, Dr. Zeineldin will also be working in the Department of Molecular Biosciences and with the University of Kansas Cancer Center, where he will continue the biomedical research he has done at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital on cancer epigenetics.

Epigenetics is the study of how a person’s behaviors and environment can affect how their genes work. Unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes are, mostly, reversable and do not change one’s DNA sequence, though it can alter how your body reads a DNA sequence, which then contributes to the susceptibility and development of cancer.

Originally a medical doctor in Egypt, Dr. Zeineldin worked as a medical geneticist, but found that medical genetics was lagging behind to offer effective treatment.

“It's the norm actually, to see a patient with a genetic problem comes to seek help, and what the family takes from that help is basically the name of the disease, and maybe some prediction of what will happen with that [disease if the patient is given]. I did that for five years of my life and then I've found it might be more helpful if I went to do research. […] I believe the impact of doing research in medical genetics will have more results down the road than just managing patients, because few inherited diseases and genetic disorders have actual treatments.” Dr. Zeineldin said.

Dr. Zeineldin is looking forward to returning to the University of Kansas, having attended as a graduate student where he studied in the Department of Molecular Biosciences. He was mentored by Dr. Kristi Neufeld, while she was assisting the KU Cancer Center in receiving its first NCI designation.

“I saw a lot of collaboration between KU Lawrence, KU Med, the Stowers Institute, and Children’s Mercy Hospital, so the KU Cancer Center is very attractive to me. It has a lot of opportunities for collaboration and has a lot of resources. After I left KU, it got a higher designation from NCI so it's now a Comprehensive Cancer Center, which means they have high level of research and a lot of funding opportunities for research.

For the Molecular Biosciences department, I like it because it's so varied, there are a lot of different research paths from biochemistry to microbiology to molecular biology. You see people working on different things and that helps you understand different types of research areas. When I was in Kristi [Neufeld’s] lab working on the tumor suppressor APC, there was another biochemist who was working on the same protein and there was a collaboration between our lab and that biochemistry lab. […] I think that’s nice about the department of Molecular Biosciences and the environment at KU, they are collegial.”

Continuing research into epigenetics at KU and KU Cancer Center will bring lots of new opportunities and will improve chances of finding treatments to help patients achieve epigenetic cancer remission.

“I think this is really important to know. You can’t understand cancer only by understanding their genetic mutations, you have to consider the epigenetic changes. One very obvious example is pediatric cancers, including neuroblastoma. When you compare pediatric cancer to adult cancer, you see less mutations in pediatric cancers --on average neuroblastoma has about six mutations-- but in adult cancers, you have hundreds and thousands of mutations. The difference is because the epigenome or the epigenetics of the cells that develop into cancer. This epigenome is permissive to cancer during tissue growth in children, while it is restricted in adults, and you need to have many mutations to reverse this epigenome to get cancer in adults.

This is just an example of why epigenetics is important to understand cancer and that currently there is a growing list of drugs that can target epigenetic epigenome. This allows opportunities to target cancer in a different way by targeting the epigenome, if we understand how that epigenome contributes to that cancer.”

Dr. Zeineldin expects to begin teaching courses in the Spring of 2025.