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Social and Behavioral Research Branch

Diverse group of people

Improving Health through Genomic Translation within the Clinic and Community


The Social and Behavioral Research Branch (SBRB) aims to develop optimal approaches for the integration of genomic discoveries into clinical and community contexts. Our research focuses on a spectrum of disorders from those that have a major public health impact to rare genetic conditions with significant impact on affected families. We conduct research at the intersection of genomics and the social and behavioral sciences and train the next generation of scientists and clinicians in this domain.  Our ongoing research is aligned with the four themes below.  

Themes of Research

The social context of genomic discovery

We approach research with a social genomics lens. We study a diverse group of disorders and seek to find how genomic factors intersect with, social processes, behavior, and environment to affect disease processes and outcomes. We use advanced and innovative research methods to analyze these intersections. For example, we examine how common and rare genetic variations impact the development of the brain, metabolism, and behavior through the lifespan. We also investigate the role that social determinants play in creating disparities in risk, morbidity, and mortality of disease. In doing so, we consider the effect of adverse social factors on gene expression in population groups that are disproportionately affected by a particular health condition as well as the mechanisms through which this occurs. Further, we are probing the intersection of genetics, genomics and environment by carrying out genetic epidemiology studies using conditions for which environment plays a large role, and through using animal models to explore these connections.

Clinical translation of genomic discovery

We approach clinical translation through several methods. We consider the clinical applications of the genomic and neural processes that impact the course of common mental health challenges. We also evaluate approaches for communicating genomic information to patients and clients that optimize health outcomes. Further, we study factors that influence a variety of health-related decision-making scenarios in the context of genomic testing and support services, and in patient responses to broad genomic information. In this work, we apply innovative technologies such as state- of the art neuroimaging and virtual reality to understand the clinician-patient relationship.

Community translation of genomic discovery

We evaluate community-based educational approaches that leverage social influence to improve knowledge of genomic information and engagement in risk-reducing behaviors. We also consider the influence of information about genomic discovery that emerges in community environments such as social media and mass media. Our work maps how genomic information flows through family systems, and how families respond to shared disease risk. Integral to this work is the application of novel methods, for example analyses that quantify how genomic information impacts the flow of information and support across complex social systems.

Health disparities

We conduct research to evaluate the use of genomic knowledge and technologies to decrease health disparities and enable access to these technologies among underserved populations. Our work investigates how genomic discoveries intersect with racial, ethnic and social identities. This research considers health disparities within both clinical and community settings. For example, we evaluate health promotion interventions that include genomic information with under-resourced, stigmatized and marginalized groups. Finally, we use rare genetic diseases to study the integration of genomics in clinical care and its impact on health equity.


Chief and Senior Investigator

Laura M. Koehly, Ph.D.
Head, Social Network Methods Section

Senior Investigators

Lawrence C. Brody, Ph.D.
Head, Gene and Environment Interaction Section
Director, Division of Genomics and Society

Philip Shaw, B.M. B.Ch., Ph.D.
Head, Neurobehavioral Clinical Research Section

Senior Scientist

Sharon Davis, M.Ed., M.P.A., Ph.D.
Head, Social Epidemiology Research Unit (SERU)

Associate Investigators

Vence L Bonham, Jr., J.D.
Health Disparities Unit
Senior Advisor to the Director for Genomics and Health Disparities

Susan J. Persky, Ph.D.
Head, Communication, Attitudes, and Behavior Unit
Head, Immersive Virtual Environment Testing Area

Training and Career Development Resources

Technology Transfer Office

The Technology Transfer Office (TTO) is responsible for the evaluation, patenting, and licensing of novel technologies, biological materials and animal models invented by NHGRI investigators. Read more


Last Updated: March 1, 2019