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Dr. Martin Hirst, PhD

Head of Epigenomics, Canada's Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre, BC Cancer

Phone 604-822-6373 (office) 604-827-4505 (lab)
Fax 604-822-9126


Associate Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Centre for High-Throughput Biology, University of British Columbia 
Associate Director of the Michael Smith Laboratory, University of British Columbia

Professional Profile

Dr. Hirst is a Senior Scientist and Head of Epigenomics at Canada’s Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre at BC Cancer, Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and Associate Director of the Michael Smith Laboratory at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

His research focuses on understanding epigenetic dysfunction in cancer and his laboratory develops experimental and computational tools to characterize normal and transformed cell types down to the single cell level. He applies these tools to explore the epigenomic states of normal and transformed cell types to discover and exploit therapeutic vulnerabilities.

Over the last decade, he has led the development of an internationally recognized epigenomic research program at BC Cancer and UBC. He leads the Centre of Epigenomic Mapping Technologies (CEMT) that represents one of two Canadian epigenomic mapping centres funded as part of the CIHR signature initiative: the Canadian Epigenetics, Environment and Health Research Consortium (CEEHRC). Dr. Hirst chairs the Scientific Steering Committee of the International Human Epigenome Consortium ( and leads the Canadian Epigenetics, Environment and Health Research Consortium Network ( with a mandate to drive epigenetic research in Canada and internationally. Dr. Hirst received a TFRI New Investigator Award (2015) and UBC Killam Research Prize (2018) and has been cited over 48,000 times (Clarivate, 2018 Highly Cited Researcher). 

Research Projects

The overall objective of Dr. Hirst’s research is directed at understanding the role of epigenetics in cancer and to investigate the therapeutic potential of interventions directed at epigenetic processes. He approaches this from an epigenomic perspective by combining innovative molecular biology and computational techniques with genome-wide detection platforms.

Epigenetics, the study of how covalent modifications to DNA and histones impact gene expression, is an emerging field with relevance to human disease. Normal cell development is accompanied by marked changes in the epigenome and specific epigenetic signatures have been identified in pluripotent, somatic and cancer cell types. Epidemiological and model organism studies have demonstrated that epigenetic modification can be induced via diverse environmental stimuli including stress, nutrient levels and toxin exposure. Epigenetic modification, which can be both transient and heritable in nature, thus provides a framework in which to investigate how environment and lifestyle choices impact disease susceptibility and progression. Furthermore, epigenetic modifications are central to chromatin dynamics and, as such, play key roles in many biological processes involving chromatin, such as DNA replication and repair, transcription and development. Our current understanding of the full repertoire of epigenetic modifications and the processes that they regulate is incomplete and we have only recently developed tools which allow for the study of normal human epigenomic polymorphism and the role that epigenetics plays in the initiation and progression of disease.

The Hirst Lab publishes epigenomic data at the Canadian Epigenetics, Environment and Health Research Consortium (CEEHRC).

 More information about the Hirst lab is available here.