Search SciPol

Brought to you by
November 1, 2017

NIH establishes new research in social epigenomics to address health disparities

  • Government
  • Agency
  • Science
  • Genetics/Genomics

National Institutes of Health – The National Institutes of Health will award 10 grants to support social epigenomics research in health disparities. This investigator-initiated research is being funded as part of the Social Epigenomics Research Focused on Minority Health and Health Disparities research program, which seeks to support research to better understand the drivers of health disparities. The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), part of the National Institutes of Health, will commit $26.2 million over five years, subject to available funds, for nine awards. An additional award under this initiative will be funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) – also part of NIH.

Social epigenomics is the study of how social experiences affect the genes and our biology. Our experiences do not alter the genetic code itself; however, social experiences may bring about changes in the various molecules that interact with DNA, determining which genes are switched on or off. Recent studies suggest that social stressors may affect health status through epigenomic modifications of various biological pathways.

Living in disadvantaged neighborhoods with exposure to chemical stressors, violence, discrimination, residential segregation and psychosocial stress, and limited access to healthy foods, can affect a person’s ability to stay healthy - becoming barriers to health.

“We are on the cusp of unprecedented research where we are bringing together different fields of science: social science and epigenetics, to help elucidate how social factors affect biology in health disparity populations,” said NIMHD Director Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D.

Research geared toward understanding how epigenomic changes are influenced by social experiences may lead to a better understanding of mechanisms and pathways that may ultimately affect minority health and health disparities.

By identifying epigenetic modifications prior to the onset of disease, it may be possible to tailor interventions to prevent chronic conditions or diseases later in life which may result in better approaches to disease prevention, and early diagnosis, with the end goal of reducing health disparities.

Read more at National Institutes of Health.

Image Citation