The National Institutes of Health announced today that it will fund 22 grants on genome-wide studies of how epigenetic changes -- chemical modifications to genes that result from diet, aging, stress, or environmental exposures -- define and contribute to specific human diseases and biological processes.
The awards will build on the important work undertaken as part of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research's Epigenomics Program. Approximately $62 million will be awarded over the next five years to study the epigenome in a number of diseases and conditions, including tumor development, hardening of the arteries, autism, glaucoma, asthma, aging, and abnormal growth and development.
"Epigenomics represents the next phase in our understanding of genetic regulation of health and disease," says NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. "These awards will address the extent to which diet and environmental exposures produce long lasting effects through changes in DNA regulation." The initiative was launched through the NIH Director's Office and, as part of the Roadmap, is expected to profoundly alter the way we understand, diagnose, and treat disease.
"This is the largest effort to date to apply epigenetics on a genome-wide scale to specific diseases," said James F. Battey, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, one of the lead NIH institutes for this Roadmap program.
The Roadmap Epigenomics Program was designed to characterize epigenetic modifications and to correlate the presence or absence of specific modifications with disease status. DNA methylation is a fundamental epigenetic modification that regulates gene expression and chromosome stability. This and other epigenetic modifications control gene activity by changing the three-dimensional structure of chromosomes. (See scientific illustration of epigenetic mechanisms at http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/epigenomics/epigeneticmechanisms.asp.)
The awards announced today are funded by 11 NIH institutes and the NIH Office of the Director and are part of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research's Epigenomics Program that began in 2007. The NIH contributors include the National Cancer Institute, the National Eye Institute, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research and the Office of Strategic Coordination in the NIH Office of the Director.
"The new grantees being announced will join a larger collaborative research effort that is working together to understand epigenetics and how it affects human health and disease," said Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
This health and disease-focused component of the NIH Roadmap Epigenomics Program builds on the previous four interrelated initiatives, but is the first to tackle questions related to diseases. The other four initiatives include the establishment of four epigenome mapping centers, the funding of an epigenomics data analysis and coordination center. the development of innovative technology in epigenetics, and the discovery of novel epigenetic changes.
"These studies will help increase our understanding of how factors such as environmental exposures, alcohol, drug abuse and stress can modify the effect of epigenetics on diseases," said Linda S. Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
The following awards are being made by NIH:
|Contact: Karen Silver|
NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences