Athanasios Zovoilis,

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Athanasios Zovoilis,

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Research Discipline(s): Bioinformatics, Genome Sciences

Primary Title: Associate Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Medical Genetics

Additional Titles & Affiliations: Director, Bioinformatics Platform, Cancer Care Manitoba Research Institute; Co-director Statistical Genomics and Bioinformatics Platform, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Manitoba


Bioinformatics, Transcriptomics and Epi-Transcriptomics of Cancer and Aging Associated Diseases, Non-coding Genome in Cancer and Aging

Non coding genome, despite representing more than 97% of our genetic information, remains largely unexplored. Understanding this part of our genetic information, often referred as the “dark matter” of our genomes, requires complex bioinformatics algorithms. Our Lab uses next generation sequencing, AI and bioinformatics to shed light on the non-coding genome and transcriptome and advance our knowledge of its role in aging associated diseases such as cancer.

Research Summary

Our genetic information is encoded mainly in the biochemical sequence of DNA and forms our 3-billion-base-long genome. Surprisingly, less than 3% of the genomic information in our genome is coding for proteins. The rest ~97% of the human genomic sequence, called the non-coding genome, is largely transcribed into RNA molecules called non coding RNAs, but does not encode for proteins and its role in human disease remains largely unknown. The Zovoilis Lab uses next generation sequencing, AI and bioinformatics algorithms to shed light on the non-coding DNA (genome), the RNAs produced by this DNA (transcriptome) and their modifications (epi-transcriptome) and advance our knowledge of this part of biological information, often referred to as our genome’s “dark matter”.

Dissecting the role of non-coding RNAs will help us understand their function in human and their importance in aging-associated diseases. The Zovoilis Lab focuses on dissecting the role of these RNAs in human health and disease and translating this knowledge into the development of early genomics and RNA diagnostics for aging associated diseases such as cancer and dementia. We aim to characterize the patterns of non-coding RNAs in patients and establish novel non-coding RNA biomarkers that will be informative for the disease’s onset.

Moreover, during the recent years, large-scale cancer genomics and transcriptomics research has revealed the uniqueness of each tumor’s genetic profile and has transformed modern cancer diagnosis and treatment through customized targeted treatments instead of applying one-size-fits-all solutions. However, availability of personalized genomics services in Canada is currently limited as the process of genome and transcriptome interpretation remains a mostly manual and time-consuming process, complicated by the shortage of bioinformaticians. A second focus of our Lab’s research is to devise bioinformatics and AI strategies that will enable us to automate and accelerate the analysis and interpretation of genomic and transcriptomic data in Cancer Care Manitoba Research Institute.


  • Dissecting the role of non coding RNAs in aging, understanding the dark matter of our genomes.
  • Developing (epi-)genomic and (epi-)transcriptomic bioinformatics and AI pipelines to empower health care professionals and other next generation sequencing end users.

Research Biography

Dr. Zovoilis is since January 2024 an Associate Professor of Bioinformatics at the Department of Biochemistry and Medical Genetics at the University of Manitoba and a senior scientist at Cancer Care Manitoba Research Institute. Dr Zovoilis is a physician with a background in Medical Genetics, a doctorate from the University of Goettingen (Germany), postgraduate training in bioinformatics from the University of Manchester (UK), and expertise in bioinformatics of next generation sequencing from his time as research fellow at Vancouver Genome Sciences Centre (Canada), a research fellow at Harvard Medical School (USA), a Canada Research Chair in RNA Bioinformatics and Genomics at the University of Lethbridge and the director of its bioinformatics core facility. He has been the founding director of the Southern Alberta Genome Sciences Center (SAGSC) and also the academic lead of the Alberta Bioinformatics Network (BioNet), and currently of its successor, the Bioinformatics Network (BioNet) Prairie. He is the director of the Bioinformatics Platform at Cancer Care Manitoba Research Institute and co-director of the Statistical Genomics and Bioinformatics Platform at the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba. Dr. Zovoilis’ research combines translational research in medicine, in particular aging associated diseases such as cancer and dementia, with basic research in bioinformatics. His expertise in bioinformatics of next-generation sequencing (NGS) is demonstrated by multiple leading or senior author scientific publications in distinguished journals such as Cell, Science, Elife, PNAS and EMBO Reports. Being the Academic Lead of BioNet Prairie, he works to foster research collaborations and partnerships in the fields of bioinformatics and computational biology in the prairie provinces and across Canada.


  • 2020 Cozzarelli Prize, PNAS and National Academy of Sciences, US; Mar. 2021
  • Tier II Canada Research Chair; Dec. 2016 and Dec 2021
  • Young Investigator Award, Alberta Prion Research Institute and ASANWT, Apr. 2019
  • German Research Foundation (DFG) Research Fellowship, Aug. 2012
  • European Commission, Marie Curie International Fellowship, Dec. 2011
  • European Molecular Biology Long-Term Fellowship, Jul. 2011
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    Featured Publications

    • Cheng Y*, Saville L*, Gollen B*, Isaac C*, Belay A*, Mehla J, Patel K, Thakor N, Mohajerani M, Zovoilis A. (2020). Increased processing of SINE B2 non coding RNAs unveils a novel type of transcriptome de-regulation underlying amyloid beta neuro-pathology. eLife 2020;9:e61265
    • Cheng Y*, Saville L*, Gollen B*, Alvarez-Veronesi A, Joseph J, Mohajerani M, Zovoilis A. (2021). Increased Alu RNA processing in Alzheimer brains is linked to gene expression change. EMBO Reports. e52255, doi:10.15252/embr.202052255
    • (#co-leading authors) Hernandez A #, Zovoilis A #, Rojas C#, Han L, Bujisic B, Lee JT. (2020). B2 and ALU retrotransposons are self-cleaving RNAs whose activity is enhanced by EZH2. PNAS, 117, 415-425.
    • Zovoilis A, Cifuentes-Rojas C, Chu HP, Hernandez AJ and Lee JT. (2016). Destabilization of B2 RNA by EZH2 activates the stress response. Cell, 167(7), 1788-1802.
    • Zovoilis A, Mungall A, Moore R, Varhol R, Chu A, Wong T, Marra M, Jones SJ. (2014). The expression level of small non-coding RNAs derived from the first exon of protein coding genes is predictive of cancer status. EMBO Reports, 15(4), 402-410.
    • #joint first authorship; Peleg S#, Sananbenesi F#, Zovoilis A#, Burkhardt S, Bahari-Javan S, Agis-Balboa RC, Cota P, Wittnam JL, Gogol-Doering A, Opitz L, Salinas-Riester G, Dettenhofer M, Kang H, Farinelli L, Chen W, Fischer A. (2010). Altered histone acetylation is associated with age-dependent memory impairment in mice. Science, 328(5986), 753-756.

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    Dr. Athan Zovoilis Lab


    Our Team

    Dr. Athan Zovoilis Lab

    Principal Investigator

    Dr. Eric Merzetti

    BioNet Program Manager

    Dr. Elly Wu

    Bioinformatics Core Manager (operations)

    Matthew Stuart-Edwards

    PhD Student

    Liam Mitchell

    PhD Student

    Luke Saville

    Research Associate

    Travis Haight

    PhD Student

    Sani e Zehra

    Research Associate

    Alyona Gerasimova

    MSc Student

    Parisha Rayomand

    PhD Student

    Riya Roy

    PhD Student

    Alexey Sizykh

    PhD Student

    Beenish Rufai Syed

    Postdoctoral Fellow