Biomarkers of Gene-Environmental Interactions in Human Disease

Gene-environmental interactions play an important role in human disease, but they have not been studied systematically. The Genes, Environment and Health Initiative (GEI) of NIH was announced in 2006 to support research that will lead to the understanding of genetic contributions and gene-environment interactions in common disease. GEI is being developed and planned by an NIH-wide Coordinating Committee, administratively led by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). NIH GEI has awarded a $5.9 million grant to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) that will house the Center for Novel Biomarkers of Response. Scientists at the center intend to create new exposure assessment tools to better understand the role of gene-environmental interactions in human disease. Development of these tools will enable precise measurements of personal exposure to environmental, chemical and biological agents. Two of the most important risk factors for human morbidity and mortality - cigarette smoke and obesity - will be the primary targets of interest for PNNL scientists. Research will focus on biomarkers for systemic stress caused by mainstream and second-hand cigarette smoke, with obesity as a confounding physiological factor. This research is comprised of two basic elements. The genetic component will rely on newfound abilities to swiftly identify genetic differences between people with illnesses and those who are healthy, leading to a greater understanding of genetic contribution to the disease. The environmental biology component will focus on developing new technologies to accurately measure personal exposures with small, wearable nanobiosensors that can be used to assess environmental agents. The center will provide NIH NIEHS with a database of response biomarkers, as well as chemical substances for selected biomarkers that are tested and validated in humans and supported by parallel studies in mice. The researchers will also develop nanobio sensors for measurement of biomarkers at POC.

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