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23andMe Receives $1.7M NIH Grant to Create Sequencing Panel for African Americans

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – 23andMe said today it has received a one-year, $1.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health's National Human Genome Research Institute to create a sequencing panel representative of African American people's genomes. Such a panel could be used as a reference dataset for health research.

"The hope is that this work will help improve our understanding of disease-causing genetic variants in minority populations," 23andMe principal investigator Adam Auton said in a statement. "This in turn could improve treatments among people with non-European ancestry that have historically been underrepresented in health studies."

Among 23andMe's customers who have consented to provide their data to research projects are tens of thousands of African Americans. The firm said it will ask permission from a subset of these customers to use their data in developing the panel, which can be used in genome-wide association studies.

The panel could help address the major disparities in health-related genetic research, the firm said in a statement. Genetic studies on human disease have been heavily skewed towards people of European ancestry. One study published in Nature in 2011 estimated that 90 percent of individuals used in genome-wide association studies are of European ancestry, meaning less is known about genetic variants in other population groups contributing to health and disease.

23andMe also said it will share the sequence panel data with NIH and other researchers. "This in turn will expand scientists' ability to make genetic discoveries for African Americans and help build a broader understanding of how genetics influence diseases and traits across multiple populations," the firm said.

The company has recently launched similar efforts to study the genetics of people with non-European ancestry. In April, 23andMe landed a $250,000 NIH grant to use admixture mapping to improve detection of disease-causing genetic variants in people of African, Asian, and Latino ancestry. This month, the firm is launching the African Genetic Project as part of its Roots Into the Futre project, to look at genomes of people from sub-Saharan Africa and better understand African genetic diversity.