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NIH to Award Grants for Gene-Environment Bioinformatics

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institutes of Health plans to fund research projects that seek to develop and test bioinformatics tools for identifying how genes and the environment interact in complex human diseases.

The multi-institute program will award grants of up to $300,000 to fund efforts that would use analytical computer tools to identify individuals at highest risk for developing a disease based on their genetic risks and exposure patterns, as well as how behavioral interventions may affect the disease process.

These studies also could aim to generate knowledge that could be applied to gene and environment studies in the environmental health sciences.

Many genes and environmental factors contribute to the susceptibility and progression of complex diseases, and understanding these diseases will require deeper understanding of genetic and clinical heterogeneity and gene-environment interactions, according to NIH. However, most methods for analyzing whole-genome scans do not incorporate environmental factors and the majority of genetic variants identified in genome-wide association studies so far have little clinical validity and confer only a small increased risk of disease, NIH said in a program announcement.

These grants will fund studies that involve genetic interactions with chemical toxicants, biological agents, lifestyle factors such as diet and physical activity, and addictive substances.

Several institutes are participating in this program.

The National Cancer Institute will fund studies of interactions of the environment with early cancer biomarkers and development of a range of new tools for understanding cancer etiology and prognosis. The National Human Genome Research Institute will support development or improvement of statistical and computational methods for analyzing and integrating genetic and environmental data for a variety of diseases. And the National Institute on Drug Abuse is interested in developing and applying methods and tools for studying the genetic and environmental interactions in substance abuse initiation, persistence, cessation, and relapse.

Other institutes involved in the effort include the National Institute on Dental and Craniofacial Research; the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

The studies funded under the program could involve, but are not limited to new statistical methods to identify gene-environment interactions that lead to distinct molecular phenotypes; development and application of study designs for gene-environment interactions when using biomarkers as surrogates; bioinformatics approaches for using high dimensional genetic and environmental data for discovery and analysis of gene-environment interactions; statistical methods to analyze continuous traits related to a human disease or disorder with multiple genetic and environmental components, and a range of other research approaches.

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