|NIH Announces New Initiative in
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will invest more than
$190 million over the next five years to accelerate an emerging
field of biomedical research known as epigenomics.
"Disease is about more than genetics. It's about how genes
are regulated — how and when they work in both health and
NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D. "Epigenomics will build
upon our new knowledge of the human genome and help us better understand
the role of the environment in regulating genes that protect our
health or make us more susceptible to disease."
The NIH is making this a priority in its research portfolio, taking
it on as an NIH Roadmap initiative. Grant applications are now
being accepted for research on epigenome mapping centers, epigenomics
data analysis and coordination, technology development in epigenetics,
and discovery of novel epigenetic marks in mammalian cells.
Epigenetics focuses on processes that regulate how and when certain
genes are turned on and turned off, while epigenomics pertains
to analysis of epigenetic changes across many genes in a cell or
Epigenetic processes control normal growth and development. Diet
and exposure to environmental chemicals throughout all stages of
human development among other factors can cause epigenetic changes
that may turn on or turn off certain genes. Changes in genes that
would normally protect against a disease, as a result, could make
people more susceptible to developing that disease later in life.
Researchers also believe some epigenetic changes can be passed
on from generation to generation.
The Epigenomics Program is a trans-NIH effort led by several NIH
institutes including the National Institute of Environmental Health
Sciences, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the National
Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, the National
Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the National
Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the National
Center for Biotechnology Information of the National Library of
Medicine. Efforts of these Institutes are coordinated by the Office
of Portfolio Analysis and Strategic Initiatives (OPASI) as part
of the NIH Roadmap.
"Epigenetic mechanisms are important in development, aging,
and learning and memory, but our understanding of epigenetic processes
is still very much in its infancy," said NIDA Director Nora
D. Volkow. "A deeper understanding of epigenetics will enable
researchers to make significant strides in understanding and treating
many diseases including cancers, obesity, depression, and addiction."
Increased interest in epigenetics has spawned international research
collaborations that have pushed the field forward in recent years.
With the NIH Roadmap initiative, the United States will increase
its commitment to epigenetics research and accelerate the pace
of biomedical discovery in the next decade.
For example, epigenetics may help explain how some people are
predisposed to certain illnesses such as cardiovascular disease,
diabetes and hypertension. Several studies have documented that
children born to mothers who did not get adequate nutrition during
pregnancy were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and coronary
heart disease later in life. The theory is that epigenetic changes
occur in genes that regulate sugar absorption and metabolism during
fetal development that allow for survival with little food, but
when encountered with an environment where food was plentiful these
changes led to development of diabetes. (See scientific illustration
of how epigenetic mechanisms can affect health at http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/epigenomics/epigeneticmechanisms.asp.)
"Although we are beginning to understand a great deal about the
basic science of epigenetics, this initiative heralds its application
to human health and disease. This initiative will connect real
life problems with cutting edge science," said Dr. Alan Krensky
director of OPASI.
NIH hopes to achieve the following goals with the Epigenomics
- Coordinate and develop a series of reference epigenome maps,
analogous to genome maps, which will be publicly available to
facilitate research in human health and disease.
- Evaluate epigenetic mechanisms in aging, development, environmental
exposure including physical and chemical exposures, behavioral
and social environments, and modifiers of stress.
- Develop new technologies for epigenetic analysis of single
cells and imaging of epigenetic activity in living organisms.
- Engage the international community to define standard practices
and platforms, to develop new laboratory tools such as antibodies.
The overall hypothesis of the NIH Roadmap Epigenomics Program
is that the origins of health and susceptibility to disease are,
in part, the result of epigenetic regulation of the genetic blueprint.
Researchers believe that understanding how and when epigenetic
processes control genes during different stages of development
and throughout life will lead to more effective ways to prevent
and treat disease.
Additional information about the Epigenomics Program is available
For more information about funding opportunities, go to: http://www.nihroadmap.nih.gov/hmp/grants.asp.
The Epigenomics Program is part of the NIH Roadmap for Medical
Research. The Roadmap is a series of initiatives designed to pursue
major opportunities and gaps in biomedical research that no single
NIH institute could tackle alone, but which the agency as a whole
can address to make the biggest impact possible on the progress
of medical research. Additional information about the NIH Roadmap
can be found at www.nihroadmap.nih.gov.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's
Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and
Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting
and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research,
and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both
common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and
its programs, visit www.nih.gov.