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NIEHS Sets Aside $74M to Study Environmental Links to Disease

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — Genomic technologies will play a role in a new $74 million National Institutes of Health initiative to study the links between the environment and disease.
The plan is part of a broader, multi-pronged government initiative announced this week by the NIH’s Environmental Health Sciences branch that could lead to new uses for certain genomic technology.

As part of the new action, NIEHS has apportioned $74 million to fund several grant opportunities as part of the NIH’s larger Genes and the Environment Initiative. This is a 5-year effort to discover the “genetic and environmental underpinnings” of diseases such as cancer, asthma, and diabetes.

The grants will fund research to develop portable sensing devices to accurately measure personal exposure to chemicals in the environment. The NIEHS said that the grants will “support the development of sensitive biomarkers, based on subtle changes in DNA structure, proteins, metabolites and other molecules that will enable scientists to study how the body responds to environmental stress.”  

The NIEHS said it has commissioned the studies in response to growing evidence that “common human diseases result from a complex interplay between genes and environmental exposures.”

Senior science advisor at the NIEHS, Brenda Weil, said that environmental exposure-detection technologies “should be as precise as the measurement tools used currently for genetic research.”

There are three main grant opportunities: One will focus on developing wearable sensors to collect direct measurements of exposure to environmental agents such as ozone, diesel exhaust, pesticides and others.

The second will work to develop sensitive biomarkers to pick up “subtle changes in inflammation, oxidative damage and other pathways … by measuring cellular and molecular responses that are involved in disease development.”  
A third grant will fund projects developing similar biomarkers and to incorporate them into field and lab-based sensing devices. 

The NIH also is seeking researchers to apply for two related projects in its Exposure Biology Program: the Improved Measures of Diet and Physical Activity for the Genes and Environment initiative and the Field-Deployable Tools for Quantifying Exposures to Psychosocial Stress and to Addictive Substances initiative.

It is likely that technology or data developed from these initiatives will feed into the others and translate into other projects in the future.
Additional information can be found here  and here.

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