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$8.7 million grant supports 'Gene-Environment Interaction' research

CINCINNATIThe University of Cincinnati's (UC) environmental health department has received an $8.7 million federal grant to continue operating its Center for Environmental Genetics (CEG).

Led by Shuk-mei Ho, PhD, director, the CEG supports state-of-the-art core facilities and technologies needed to conduct innovative research that focuses on how environmental agents interact with genetic and epigenetic factors to influence disease risk and outcome.

This funding renewal, from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), will be dispersed in annual increments of about $1.74 million through March 31, 2018. The center is one of 20 Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) Core Centers funded by the NIEHS, designed to build scientific collaboration to identify toxicants in the environment, learn how these toxicants affect people's health and provide insights into preventing environmentally induced illnesses.

Additional missions of the center are to attract new talents to EHS research and empower communities to impact public health policies.

"This grant validates the important work of the CEG and will allow us to continue to conduct state-of-the-art environmental research at UC's Academic Health Center and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center," says Ho, Jacob G. Schmidlapp professor and chair of UC's environmental health department, a University System of Ohio (USO) Center of Excellence.

Founded in 1992 by Daniel Nebert, MD, now a UC professor emeritus of environmental health, the CEG encourages research collaboration between basic and applied scientists, epidemiologists and clinicians seeking to understand the complex relationships between genetic predisposition to disease and environmental exposures.

Susan Pinney, PhD, professor of environmental health, serves as deputy director of the CEG. Alvaro Puga, PhD, an associate professor of environmental health, and Daniel Woo, MD, a professor in UC's department of neurology and rehabilitation medicine, are associate directors.

"Environmental chemicals and their potential health effects are increasingly part of the public consciousness," Pinney says. "This funding will allow us to respond to questions from the public with cutting-edge science."

The center has 33 full members, 19 clinical members, 35 affiliate members and 14 associate members, including established and new basic, translational and clinical investigators from the UC College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Collectively, CEG members hold $350 million in funding for UC and Cincinnati Children's during the last funding period.

Members have access to collaborative resources in three service cores:

  • Bioinformatics core, led by Mario Medvedovic, PhD, and Jarek Meller, PhD, associate professors of environmental health, help researchers collect and organize data on how proteins function in the body and understand how that information might translate into new targets for drug development. The team also helps researchers design and analyze gene-expression experiments and understand the biological implications of results.

  • Integrative technologies core, led by Ho and Ricky Leung, PhD, assistant professor of environmental health, offers specialized services and expert consultation in facilities such as genomic and sequencing core, transgenic mouse construction, genotyping, proteomics, high-field magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy, flow cytometry and mass spectrometry-based detection of metal ions.

  • Integrative health sciences core, led by Pinney, Michael Thomas, MD, professor of obstetricsgynecology, and Aimen Chen, MD, PhD, assistant professor of environmental health, guides CEG members through designing epidemiologic research studies, clinical trials and clinical databases as well as biospecimen acquisition.

In addition to supporting shared research services, the CEG annually awards about $200,000 in pilot research grants to support research initiatives from established EHS researchers, attract new investigators to the field and promote translational research that focuses on population- or patient-based studies. Jagjit Yadav, PhD, professor of environmental health, and Chen are co-directors of the Pilot Project Program.

The CEG also incorporates a career development program, directed by Grace LeMasters, PhD, professor emerita of environmental health, and Woo. The effort focuses on developing the next generation of environmental health science researchers to conduct transdisciplinary research, and encourage use of modern technologies in environmental health sciences.

CEG investigators are linked to community needs by a Community Outreach and Engagement Core (COEC), led by Erin Haynes, DrPH, assistant professor of environmental health. The COEC works to translate scientific research into practical health promotion, disease prevention information, tools and resources for community members, public health decision-makers and health care professionals. The COEC also listens to community concerns and builds scientific connections to address those needs.

In the past five years, the CEG has provided over $1 million in pilot grants and career development awards and has helped directly generate nearly $22 million in additional funding support.

This year, the CEG is supporting one Next Generation Biomedical Investigator and is distributing 10 New Investigator Scholars awards, for total funding of about $70,000. It will award eight pilot research grants totaling approximately $200,000 in July.

The CEG will host a special gathering at 2 p.m. Monday, June 24, in Room 121 of the Kettering Complex on the UC medical campus to celebrate the renewal of the grant and give members an opportunity to discuss ideas for the next five years in an informal setting, open to all.


Contact: Keith Herrell
University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center

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