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NIH to Fund Studies of Whole Genome, Environmental Data

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institutes of Health plans to fund research projects that will delve into and analyze data from genome-wide association studies and related phenotype information to identify gene-environment interactions involved in human diseases.

NIH will provide up to $300,000 over three years to support each grant winner.

These research efforts will aim to harness the massive volume of information that has been generated through genome-wide association studies and is archived in data sets in the Database of Genotypes and Phenotypes (dbGaP). The goal is to conduct secondary analyses of these existing GWAS datasets, or other large genomic datasets, to discover interactions between genes and environmental factors that suggest genetic susceptibilities to environmental exposures, NIH said today.

There are a number of challenges facing investigators who are seeking to understand how specific interactions between genes and environmental factors work, and what they mean to human health, but there also is "a growing repertoire of new approaches, study designs, and statistical and analytical methods" for exploring those interactions.

For the purposes of this funding program, NIH is interested in a wide range of environmental risk factors, such as chemical toxicants, biological agents, as well as "family, social, or cultural influences that may modify the pathophysiologic responses to environmental exposures," so long as their impacts on human health can be assessed using biological assays.

The priority for these projects will be that they use data from genome-wide research or next-generation sequencing.

Several NIH institutes will participate in this funding program, and each has study areas that interest them most for this program. For example, the National Cancer Institute is encouraging researchers to propose using novel statistical methods and computational tools to study interactions between genetic and environmental factors that may be useful in understanding cancer etiology and prognosis or may be useful for detecting or preventing cancer or improving outcomes.

The National Human Genome Research Institute is encouraging proposals for studies that will use improved statistical and computational methods to analyze and integrate genetic and environmental data so it may be used across a wide variety of diseases, conditions, or traits.

Other NIH institutes involved in the program include the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences; the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases; the National Institute on Drug Abuse; and the National Library of Medicine.

The studies may involve a range of approaches for analyzing genome-wide association and phenotype data, but priority will be given to applications that involve analyses of multiple environmental risk factors and genetic variants; that explore gene-environment interactions in human populations with unique susceptibilities to environmental exposures; and those that assess environmental influences using validated measures, repeated measures of the environment over time, or environmental measures during key developmental stages for a human disease or disorder.