As a genetic epidemiologist originally hailing from Nigeria, there may be no one better suited to head up the new NIH Intramural Center for Genomics and Health Disparities than Charles Rotimi. The new center will set its sights on elucidating some of the mysteries surrounding diseases that affect minority groups by analyzing genetic, lifestyle, socioeconomic, and clinical data. Rotimi, who comes to the NIH from his previous position as head of the National Human Genome Center at Howard University, says that the interests and goals set out by the new center are in alignment with his own work.
"Over the years, I have established very large, population-based cohorts that we use to study type 2 diabetes and obesity in populations in Africa and here in the United States among African-Americans, so we have tremendous resources in terms of clinical data, technology data, and genetic data in order to bring to bear on this question," Rotimi says. "Most of the genome-wide association studies have been done in European populations, so we need to know what happens when we apply those tools also to recent African populations."
The new center will collect data on the ways in which various minority groups are affected by obesity, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension, among other diseases. Using this data, researchers hope to construct epidemiological models and population genetics projects that will shed light on the relationships between lifestyle, culture, genetics, and health.
"We are going to take advantage of the fact that genomic tools are coming of age, and we're going to see how we can use these tools to address some of the conditions that we see in terms of disparaging health," Rotimi says. "We're particularly interested in what I describe as a triangular relationship between obesity, habitation, and diabetes, and we are going to attack these three conditions by using genetic technology approaches."
Looking into the future, Rotimi says that he would like the new center to collect enough data to reveal what, if any, are the contributions genomics has made to the issue of health disparities. "Given that Africa is the home to all humans, what we find there, I strongly believe, will be applicable not just to African-Americans but to all populations," he says.