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PSU Reaps $3.5M to Study Genetic Changes in Children Due to Social, Environmental Factors

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Pennsylvania State University researchers have been awarded a $3.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study changes in DNA methylation (DM) and telomere length (TL) in children that are potentially related to social environments.

Penn State College of Medicine investigator Daniel Notterman, associate vice president of research and vice dean for research and graduate studies, will lead the effort, which will examine DM and TL in children who are participating in The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a 15-year NIH-funded project being run by Princeton University.

Notterman plans to use the funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development to gain a better understanding of how social environments can influence DM and TL in children, according to his project proposal.

They will study DM and TL from saliva samples that were collected from the children at ages nine and 15 and will re-analyze the nine-year DNA with a custom array for 72 genes and 200 SNP variants that includes genes related to pathways that impact dopamine, serotonin, and other neurodevelopmental characteristics.

The investigators also will examine the participants' social environment from infancy through early adolescence and compare these data with DM and TL changes to try to measure how the environment impacts these genetic changes.

To bolster the information in the FFCWS study, Notterman's team plans to conduct an additional 250 in-person interviews with the adolescents.

They expect to find significant changes in DM and TL between the ages of nine and 15, some of which may be due to time and development, but others will show that family social environments have a significant influence on variable genetic traits.

Notterman expects that the data set that the PSU team creates will be the only one to combine a population-based study with rich longitudinal data from birth, a large exposure to "harsh" environments, DNA markers on neurological development, and DM and TL measures for two different points in time.

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