Noted geneticist, Joseph Nadeau, PhD, of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, has received a 2010 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director's Pioneer Award.
One of 17 awardees to receive this prestigious distinction, Dr. Nadeau will investigate transgenerational genetic effects, where the biological features and disease risk of an individual has been found to depend as much on the genetics of ancestral generations as on their own inherited genes. His discovery of this unexpected mode of inheritance challenges the most fundamental premise of most studies where an individual's genes, environmental exposures and life experiences are customarily thought to determine their health status.
"This NIH Director's Pioneer Award is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study this new mode of inheritance" says Dr. Nadeau, the James H. Jewel Professor and Chair of Genetics Department. The five-year grant is supported by an award of $3.9 million.
An enormous international effort is currently underway to discover the genetic basis for common human diseases. While many important discoveries have been made, most of the genes have eluded discovery. As a result, the goal of diagnosing, treating and preventing common birth defects and adult diseases remains unfulfilled.
Discovery of transgenerational genetic effects helps reconcile the general sense that traits and diseases 'run' in families. That is, having a family member with a disease dramatically increases the inherited risk for everyone else in the family. Although familial occurrence remains the single strongest factor for disease risk, these genes have proven extraordinarily hard to find, a problem that has been called 'missing heritability'. If these genetic variants act across generations, as Dr. Nadeau's evidence suggests, then traits can still have a genetic basis, but the 'disease genes' may present themselves in previous generations and not necessarily in the affe
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Case Western Reserve University