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About this Program: How do Genes and the Environment Interact to Affect Health?

Common conditions include both genetic and environmental risk factors

Most common diseases are complex and are influenced by multiple genes interacting together and with environmental factors. These diseases include cancer, heart disease and stroke, diabetes, asthma and lung diseases, autoimmune disorders, Alzheimer's and other neurological disorders, mental health diseases and chemical dependency, pregnancy and reproductive disorders, and even infectious diseases like hepatitis.

Environmental factors

Scientists believe that recent increases in many common chronic diseases are due to changes in the environment and our lifestyles. However, not everyone responds to these changes in the same way. Some individuals are much more vulnerable to changes than others, and this is thought to be due to small differences in individual genetic factors.

Genes can contribute to risk or they can be protective

In some cases, an individual gene may only contribute a small risk to a particular disease, but when certain genes interact -- together or with specific environmental conditions -- the risk may be much larger. Other genes may be protective, and when they interact with the right gene(s) or environmental factor(s) they may reduce a person's risk of certain diseases.

Sampling for genetic and environmental factors

In the research program, saliva and blood samples are being used to obtain DNA for analysis of genetic variation. We are obtaining environmental data from the following sources:

  1. Measurements from participant blood samples.
  2. Participant responses to the RPGEH Health Survey, and other surveys that may be done.
  3. Air quality and other geographically based environmental measurements that can be linked to the neighborhoods where participants live and/or work.

DNA samples used for analysis only

This research does not involve cloning, stem cell research, gene therapy, or genetic engineering. The use of DNA samples will be restricted to analysis. Genetic material will not be altered.