Intensive Efforts To Determine Genetic, Environmental Roots Of Diseases

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced the creation of two new, closely related initiatives to speed up research on the causes of common diseases such as asthma, arthritis and Alzheimer's disease.

The Genes and Environment Initiative (GEI), a research effort at NIH to combine a type of genetic analysis and environmental technology development to understand the causes of common diseases.
GEI will have two main components: a laboratory procedure for efficiently analyzing genetic variation in groups of patients with specific illnesses and a technology development program to devise new ways of monitoring personal environmental exposures that interact with genetic variations and result in human diseases.

The proposed federal funding level will enable GEI to perform genetic analysis - or genotyping - studies for several dozen common diseases.

At the same time, a public-private partnership between NIH, FNIH, which is a non-profit foundation established by Congress to support the mission of the NIH; Pfizer and Affymetrix is being created to further accelerate this important research on the genetic association studies.
The new partnership, called the Genetic Association Information Network (GAIN), is being launched with a $5 million donation from Pfizer to set up the management structure and $15 million worth of laboratory studies to determine the genetic contributions to five common diseases.

The genetic analysis of both GAIN and GEI will focus on the alternative spellings - called single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs - that normally occur in the order of the 3 billion DNA base pairs or letters that make up a person's genome. SNPs are like single-letter misspellings of a word. Most of these genetic variations are biologically meaningless. But a small fraction of these SNPs alter the function of a gene - often only slightly. The combination of many slightly altered genes may significantly increase the risk of a specific disease, but identifying such a complex set of genetics changes is challenging. Finding these disease-causing variants is one of the highest priorities of current biomedical research.

"Virtually all diseases have a hereditary component, transmitted from parent to child through the three billion DNA letters that make up the human genome," said Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH and chairman of the GAIN Steering Committee and co-chairman of the NIH Coordinating Committee for GEI.

ScienceDaily: Intensive Efforts Launched To Determine Genetic And Environmental Roots Of Common Diseases

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

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