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NIH Genes, Environment and Health Initiative Awards Funding to Boerwinkle
Eric Boerwinkle, Ph.D., a professor at The University of Texas School of Public Health who is recognized for his work in heart disease and genetics, was awarded one of the initial grants presented by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in conjunction with its multimillion-dollar Genes, Environment and Health Initiative (GEI).
The GEI, launched in 2006, is exploring links between hereditary disease and environmental factors. “This is groundbreaking research in understanding the complex factors that contribute to health and disease,” said Mike Leavitt, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Researchers have long known that our genes, our environmental exposures and our own behavioral choices all have an influence on our health.”
Boerwinkle, who also is a professor at The Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases (IMM) and the Kozmetsky Family Chair in Human Genetics, received a $1.1-million award over two years to conduct a study titled “Genome-wide Association for Gene environment Interaction Effects Influencing Coronary Artery Disease (CAD).”
“Cardiac disease is felt by researchers to be 50 percent genetically determined and 50 percent behavioral and environment determined,” said IMM Director and Chief Executive Officer C. Thomas Caskey, M.D. “This creative project attempts to link the two. Such new knowledge could point to new directions for disease modification and improved health outcome.”
A genome-wide association study is a technique to identify genetic variants that are contributing to human disease by comparing the genomes of patients with the disease to that of a control population. Gene-environment interaction is a term which means that the effect of a gene is modified by the environment and the effect of the environment is modified by one’s genotype.
“Gene-environment interaction is the cornerstone of personalized medicine,” Boerwinkle said.
Boerwinkle will be studying whether the risk of heart disease – the leading cause of death in the United States – is affected by the interaction between environmental factors such as diet, exercise and smoking, and genetic variables in individuals.
“We are very proud of Dr. Boerwinkle’s groundbreaking research on gene-environment interaction that may lead to new discoveries of how to treat and prevent coronary heart disease,” said Guy S. Parcel, Ph.D., dean of the University of Texas School of Public Health.
Boerwinkle was one of the authors of a study reported in the May 3 Science Express in which researchers identified a region of the Human Genome that is a significant predictor of heart disease. He is also the principal investigator of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC), which is a prospective epidemiologic study involving nearly 16,000 participants in four communities that has been cited in more than 500 articles in peer-reviewed journals.
The NIH awarded grants for eight genome-wide association studies. Other areas of interest include oral clefts, addiction, lung cancer and diabetes. Two genotyping centers, a coordinating center and more than 30 environmental technology projects also received funding.
The genome-wide association studies will be led by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of NIH.
By Rob Cahill, Institutional Advancement
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