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23andMe Lands $250K NIH SBIR Grant to Develop Admixture Mapping-Based Genomic Analysis Pipeline

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Personal genomics firm 23andMe announced today that it has received a $250,000 NIH Small Business Innovation Research grant to develop an alternate approach to genome-wide association studies, which may help expand research on genes associated with disease in non-European populations.

The firm plans to develop a genomic analysis pipeline for identifying genetic variants associated with disease based on mapping by admixture linkage disequilibrium, or admixture mapping. In a statement, 23andMe said its database — which contains many individuals that self-identify as Latino or African American and may be admixed — would allow its scientists to use the approach on a larger scale than ever before. And the work funded by the grant could provide insight into genetic variants important for populations that are underrepresented in current disease-related research. "This could help reduce the research disparities among groups in the United States and elsewhere," 23andMe senior scientist and project leader Kasia Bryc said in a statement.

The company estimated that up to 90 percent of research into genetics underlying disease has been conducted on people of European ancestry. "In admixed populations — such as African Americans and Latinos who have mixed European, African and Native American ancestry — using this method may be a way to more easily identify disease-causing variants," 23andMe added.

While the concept of admixture mapping has been around since the 1950s, the ability to do it on the genome-wide scale has only recently taken off. Large projects studying genetic diversity in Mexico and India have made use of admixture mapping to analyze genomes.

Scientists at 23andMe will study admixed individuals that have certain diseases in common, seeking genomic regions that may be associated with those diseases. However, the firm didn't disclose which diseases it plans to focus on.

23andMe added that the research might also help guide drug development. The firm has signed multiple partnerships with pharmaceutical companies to provide access to its genetic database and recently launched its own therapeutics division.