We've updated our Privacy Policy to make it clearer how we use your personal data.

We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. You can read our Cookie Policy here.


Genes, Environment and Health Initiative Invests in Genetic Studies, Environmental Monitoring Technologies

Listen with
Register for free to listen to this article
Thank you. Listen to this article using the player above.

Want to listen to this article for FREE?

Complete the form below to unlock access to ALL audio articles.

Read time: 2 minutes

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has selected the first projects to be funded as part of the Genes, Environment and Health Initiative (GEI), collaboration between geneticists and environmental scientists.

"This is ground-breaking research in understanding the complex factors that contribute to health and disease," said Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.

"Researchers have long known that our genes, our environmental exposures and our own behavioral choices all have an influence on our health. This new initiative will use innovative genomic tools as well as new instruments for measuring environmental factors - from diet and physical activity to stress and substance addiction - in order to begin sorting out how these different factors affect a person’s risk for a number of health conditions," Leavitt continued.

Secretary Leavitt first launched the GEI initiative in February 2006 as a proposal in the President's budget for fiscal year 2007. The funding announced is for the first research grants under the new initiative. They are part of a broader effort across HHS agencies to build on recent advances in genomic science and medicine, including the Secretary's Initiative on Personalized Health Care.

NIH received $40 million in new funding as part of its fiscal year (FY) 2007 budget to support GEI. NIH institutes already planned to spend some $28 million in FY 2007 on the kinds of studies GEI will conduct. And finally, two institutes chose to add a total of $9 million in additional funding for targeted studies under the Genes, Environment and Health Initiative.

To identify the genetic risks, researchers will use the rapidly evolving technologies used in genome-wide association studies to focus on common conditions, such as tooth decay, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. This genetic component of GEI uses a strategy which relies on the newfound ability to swiftly identify genetic differences throughout the genome between people with an illness and those who are healthy, leading to an understanding of the underlying genetic contribution to the disease.

The environmental component will begin by developing new technologies that accurately measure personal exposures with small, wearable sensors that can be used to assess environmental agents.

The final component of the research strategy is to determine whether the effect of genetic variants that increase disease risk is different in the presence of environmental exposures. In the first year, NIH will fund eight genome-wide association studies, two genotyping centers, a coordinating center and more than 30 environmental technology projects.

The genome-wide association studies will be led by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of NIH. First-year funding for the studies was contributed by all NIH institutes and centers, including an extra investment by NIH’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR).

The principal investigators, approximate funding levels and health condition to be focused on are:

• Terri Beaty, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore
International Consortium to Identify Genes and Interactions Controlling Oral Clefts,

• Laura Bierut, M.D., Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis
Study of Addiction: Genetics and Environment,

• Eric Boerwinkle, Ph.D., The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
Genome-wide Association for Gene-environment Interaction Effects Influencing Coronary Heart Disease

• Neil Caporaso, M.D., National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md.
A Genome-wide Association in a Population-based Lung Cancer Study

• Frank Hu, M.D., Ph.D., Harvard School of Public Health, Boston.
Genes and Environment Initiatives in Type 2 Diabetes

• William Lowe, M.D., Northwestern University, Chicago
Genome-wide Association Mapping: Maternal Metabolism-birth Weight Interactions

• Mary Marazita, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh
Dental Caries (Tooth Decay): Whole Genome Association and Gene x Environment Studies

• Jeffrey Murray, M.D., University of Iowa, Iowa City
Genome-wide Association Studies of Prematurity and Its Complications

In addition to the genome-wide association studies, two genotyping facilities and a coordinating center have also received funding for GEI. An additional estimated $9 million of GEI funds will be committed to the genotyping centers in September once late-breaking scientific opportunities are identified and prioritized, to process additional samples which will provide even greater power and accuracy to the genome-wide association studies. All genome-wide association elements of GEI are being awarded as cooperative agreements.

The principal investigators and approximate total funding levels are:

- Genotyping Facilities

• Stacey Gabriel, Ph.D., Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, Mass.
A Center for GEI Association Studies
$3.8 million

• David Valle, M.D., Center for Inherited Disease Research, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University/Center for Inherited Disease Research
Genotyping for Genome-wide Association Studies
$3.5 million

- Coordinating Center

• Bruce Weir, Ph.D., University of Washington, Seattle
$1.2 million

Data from the genome-wide association studies will be deposited in the database of Genotypes and Phenotypes (dbGaP), at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a part of the National Library of Medicine at NIH, which will manage the vast amount of genetic, medical and environmental information that emerges from GEI.