NIH Announces Funding for new Epigenomics Initiative
News Sep 30, 2008
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announces funding for the new NIH Roadmap Epigenomics Program. Epigenetic processes control normal growth and development, and epigenomics is a study of epigenetic processes at a genome-wide scale.
The NIH will invest more than $190 million over the next five years to accelerate this emerging field of biomedical research. The first grants will total approximately $18 million in 2008.
The overall hypothesis of the NIH Roadmap Epigenomics Program is that the origins of health and susceptibility to disease are, in part, the result of epigenetic regulation of the genetic blueprint. Researchers believe that understanding how and when epigenetic processes control genes during different stages of development and throughout life will lead to more effective ways to prevent and treat disease.
Epigenetic processes, such as modifications to DNA-associated proteins called histones, control genetic activity by changing the three-dimensional structure of chromosomes. This can affect gene expression as profoundly as changes in the DNA sequence.
"Epigenomics-based research is now a central issue in biology. We will build upon our new knowledge of the human genome and move towards a deeper understanding of how DNA information is dynamically regulated through DNA histone modifications as well as the emerging role of micro RNAs and other factors," said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D. "The grants now funded through this program will provide reference data that the entire community can use to understand epigenetic regulation and how it affects health and disease."
Diet and exposure to environmental chemicals throughout all stages of human development, among other factors, can cause epigenetic changes that may turn on or turn off certain genes. Changes in the regulation of genes could make people more or less susceptible to developing a disease later in life.
"The Epigenome Program promises to uncover the fundamental processes that make a liver cell different from a muscle cell or a brain cell. Understanding these processes has far-reaching implications, from reprogramming of adult cells to treat disease to learning how environmental exposures during pregnancy increase a child's risk of developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease," said Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
The Epigenomics Program is a trans-NIH effort led by several NIH institutes including the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the National Center for Biotechnology Information of the National Library of Medicine. Efforts of these Institutes are coordinated by the Office of Portfolio Analysis and Strategic Initiatives as part of the NIH Roadmap.
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