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NHGRI Special Populations Research Program Collaborations with Howard University

The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) has undertaken a major collaboration with Howard University's National Human Genome Center (NHGC) over the last five years.

Objectives Include:

  • Increasing the participation of minority researchers and minority institutions in genomics research.
    The long-range goal of our collaboration is for the NHGC to become a self-sustaining entity through competitive grants and contracts. Our active collaboration at this time, including seed money for a variety of high profile and scientifically significant projects, should provide a basis from which the NHGC's scientists will build an important and lasting research capability.

  • Collaborative research between majority and minority institutions.
    This project promotes the cross-fertilization of ideas between NHGRI and Howard University. It has drawn Howard investigators to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus for lab meetings, seminars and other scientific activities. In turn, NHGRI scientists are, through this collaboration, participating in scientific meetings at Howard.

  • Inclusion of minorities in research study populations.
    To meet inclusion criteria of this program, research participants must identify themselves as being of African descent.

  • Study of diseases that disproportionately affect African Americans.
    Hereditary Prostate Cancer (HPC) and Type II Diabetes are recognized as diseases that disproportionately affect African Americans.

    There is a paucity of standardized, population-based data on genetic and epidemiological factors contributing to the disproportionate increase in complex diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, in African-Americans. In view of the present lack of clarity concerning genes involved in determining susceptibility to complex diseases and their disproportionate effect in African-Americans, it seems appropriate to collect families and population-based information in a way that maximizes the participation of African-American physicians and, research scientists and of African-American communities. The identification of genes underlying susceptibility to common diseases and an understanding of the function of these genes and their interaction with environmental factors will lead to improved management and treatment of the diseases.

    • Africa America Diabetes Mellitus Study (AADM)
      Because of the high frequency of environmental risk factors for Type II diabetes in the African-American population, it is more productive to study genetic risk factors in West Africans, since they are thought to be the founding population of most current African-Americans and have fewer dietary and nutritional confounding variables than do people living in the United States. To recruit for the study, five sites were selected through a peer review process from a total of 24 applications, three of them in Nigeria and two in Ghana. Because of logistical challenges involved in doing a study of this type, it was planned in stages to allow assessment of the sites' ability to recruit appropriate patients, to collect blood, urine, and other clinical data, and to send the samples and data to the Coordinating Center at Howard University. The one-year, pilot project fully met its goal of recruiting 15 affected sib pairs per site. Based on this experience, a full-scale study was implemented in September 1998 that has achieved its goal of enrolling a total of 400 affected sib pairs and 200 spouse controls from West Africa. DNA from participants has been genotyped at the Center for Inherited Disease Research (CIDR), a high-throughput genotyping facility at NIH. Results of the genotyping are in the process of being analyzed. The study has not only started to yield high quality data, but has assisted in the recruitment of several top-flight scientists to the Center at Howard University.

    • African-American Hereditary Prostate Cancer Study Network (AAHPC)
      The Howard Center is also coordinating a linkage study of hereditary prostate cancer, the African-American Hereditary Prostate Cancer (AAHPC) Study Network. The initial aim is to enroll 100 families in which at least four men have been diagnosed with prostate cancer at or before 65 years of age and there are four other (unaffected) relatives available for study. African-American families like these with prostate cancer are almost completely missing from other pedigree collections, despite the higher incidence and higher lethality of prostate cancer in black men. Through a competitive review, the AAHPC study network has funded seven centers (Detroit, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Houston, Columbia, S.C., and Washington, D.C.). For most of these, the Principal Investigator is an African-American urologist. Community acceptance and participation has been good. Blood samples and clinical data are sent from recruitment sites around the country to the Center for DNA extraction. Over 74 families have already been identified and samples collected. DNA from these families will be studied to see if linkage can be found to a known hereditary prostate cancer location on chromosome 1 as well as whether other linkages exist.

    • National Cooperative Study of Hereditary Prostate Cancer in African Americans

The training and education of young African-American scientists is a priority in our collaboration with Howard University. As a direct result of the initiation of these two studies on the genetics of HPC and Type II diabetes in African-Americans, five newly recruited doctoral level young scientists are being supported. A sixth scientist, who had been at NHGRI working on another HPC study, is now turning his efforts to HPC in African Americans and will serve as Principal Investigator on this study. This collaboration will continue to recruit scientists of African descent.

It is important to note that this collaboration with Howard University has not only resulted in a growing array of scientific research on diseases that disproportionately affect African-Americans, but has also led to fruitful exploration of the ethical, social and legal aspects of such research - another area that this collaboration will continue to explore and within which it will continue to support the career development of African-American researchers.

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Last Reviewed: April 11, 2011