The Genes, Environment and Health Initiative (GEI)

On February 8, 2006 Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt announced that the President’s 2007 budget proposal includes $40 million for the National Institutes of Health to plan and implement a Genes and Environment Initiative (GEI). If approved by Congress, federal funding will begin in fiscal year 2007 and continue for four years, with $26 million annually going to genetic analysis and $14 million annually designated for the development of new tools to measure environmental exposures that affect health.

The GEI will have two main components:

The Genetics Program will be spearheaded by NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). The genetic analysis would focus on the alternative spellings – called single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs – that normally occur in the order of the 3 billion DNA letters that make up a person’s genome. SNPs are like single-letter variant spellings in a word. Most of these variations occur at single letters in the genetic code and are biologically meaningless. But a small fraction of these changes alter the function of a gene – often only slightly. The sum 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.

The Exposure Biology Program will be led by NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). Genes alone do not tell the whole story. Recent iincreases in chronic diseases like diabetes, childhood asthma, obesity, or autism cannot be due to major shifts in the human genome. They must be due to changes in our environments, diets, and activity levels, which may produce disease in genetically predisposed persons. Therefore, GEI will also invest in innovative new technologies to measure environmental toxins, dietary intake, and physical activity, and to determine an individual’s biological response to those influences, using new tools of genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics.

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This page last updated: September 17, 2008