2013 News Release: New NIH grants to investigate disease-related variations in genetic makeup

National Human Genome Research Institute

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National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)
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New NIH grants to investigate disease-related variations in genetic makeup

Studies focus on underlying susceptibilities in minority populations

Population Architecture Using Genomics and Epidemiology (PAGE)

Bethesda, Md., Fri., Sept. 6, 2013 - Five research teams have received new four-year awards to study the genomics of disease susceptibility in ethnically diverse populations. The projects aim to unravel the subtle variations in genetic makeup among groups - including African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics and more - that may account for differences in risks for conditions such as high blood pressure and high blood lipids, in addition to common diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

These research teams are receiving support - more than $3.8 million in fiscal year 2013, and nearly $14 million over four years, based on the availability of funds - through the Population Architecture Using Genomics and Epidemiology (PAGE) program of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of NIH. The current grantees are the second group of researchers to be funded through the PAGE program.

"The goal of the PAGE program is to investigate ancestrally diverse populations to gain a better understanding of how genetic factors influence susceptibility to disease," said epidemiologist Lucia Hindorff, Ph.D., PAGE program director at NHGRI.

Such factors include variations called single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs. These are tiny spelling changes in the DNA code that can affect a person's risk of developing a disease or alter a response to medications. Over the years, a research approach called a genome-wide association study (GWAS) has led to the discovery of hundreds of gene variants associated with common diseases. This next phase of the PAGE program will focus on expanding the number of genetic variants analyzed to include those that are more rare and likely to be functional. Scientists hope that these common and rare genetic variants will allow them to piece together the complex biological picture of many diseases and lead to more personalized prevention, diagnoses and treatment.

To date, much of this research - including the initial round of PAGE grants -- has focused on whites. The new round of grants supports studies on groups of more diversified heritages.

"We wanted the second group of grants to focus on non-whites because many tend to have a greater incidence of disease," said Dr. Hindorff. For example, African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans tend to have a higher incidence of high blood pressure and obesity, along with accompanying heart disease and risk of stroke compared to whites.

"There are often population-related biological pathways that contribute to disease, so looking at many traits and diseases together gives a more complete picture of the role of genetic variation," she said. "All of the funded studies take advantage of large epidemiological studies and datasets."

The following groups have been awarded grants (pending available funds):

The grant numbers for the newly funded awards are the following: 1U01HG007416-01; 1U01HG007376-01; 1U01HG007397-01; 1U01HG007417-01; and 1U01HG007419-01.

NHGRI is one of the 27 institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health. The NHGRI Extramural Research Program supports grants for research and training and career development at sites nationwide. Additional information about NHGRI can be found at www.genome.gov.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 institutes and centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

Contact:

NHGRI Communications
Steven Benowitz
(301) 451-8325
Steven.Benowitz@nih.gov

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Last Updated: November 21, 2013