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NHGRI Awards up to $14M for Studies of Gene Variants in Ethnically Diverse Groups

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Human Genome Research Institute announced today grants totaling up to nearly $14 million over four years to fund five new projects that will investigate variations in the human genome across diverse ethnic groups that can influence disease risk.

NHGRI said that it plans to provide a total of $3.8 million this year to fund the grants under the Population Architecture Using Genomics and Epidemiology (PAGE) program, and that the total funding amounts over the term of the awards is subject to the availability of funds.

This crop of grant winners – the second round of the PAGE funding – includes research teams at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; the University of Southern California and the University of Hawaii, Honolulu; Mount Sinai School of Medicine; and Rutgers University.

"The goal of the PAGE program is to investigate ancestrally diverse populations to gain a better understanding of how genetic factors influence susceptibility to disease," Lucia Hindorff, NHGRI's PAGE program director, said in a statement.

The aim is to hunt for variants such as SNPs that can affect disease risk or response to treatment, and to expand the number of genetic variants to include more that are either rare of or likely to be functional.

So far, much of the genome-wide association research has focused on whites, including the first round of PAGE grants, NHGRI said, so its goal now is to support projects that focus on more diverse heritages.

"We wanted the second group of grants to focus on non-whites because many tend to have a greater incidence of disease," Hindorff said.

"There are often population-related biological pathways that contribute to disease, so looking at many traits and diseases together gives a more complete picture of the role of genetic variation," she said. "All of the funded studies take advantage of large epidemiological studies and datasets."

The team at UNC-CH was awarded a $3.1 million grant to fund a program called CALiCo II, in which the investigators will analyze DNA collected from several population-based studies that have involved many Hispanic and Africa-American participants.

The researchers at Fred Hutchinson won a $2.9 million award to study rare gene variations found in the genome's protein-coding regions that may be involved in diseases in African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. Focusing on participants from the Women's Health Initiative, they will compare DNA from these participants to the sequences of around 350,000 rare gene variations that are associated with several diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and others.

USC and the University of Hawaii will use their $3.1 million grant to study DNA from the Multiethnic Cohort, a large population-based study focused on individuals from California and Hawaii. They will look for gene variants linked to a range of diseases in the hopes of building disease risk models in groups such as African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Hispanics, Native Hawaiians, and whites.

The Mount Sinai group plans to use its $2.9 million award to examine data from the Mount Sinai BioMe Biobank, a resource based on electronic medical records from diverse communities in New York City. The aim is to gain a better understanding of the causes of disease in these communities by looking at how their genetics influences risk for metabolic, kidney, and heart disorders.

And Rutgers will use its $2.9 million award to support a PAGE coordinating center that will function as a centralized resource to manage and organize study logistics, gather data and analyses, support collaborations, and be a data clearinghouse for results from these studies.