Bioinformatics professor receives NIH grant
Dr. Heather Wheeler, assistant professor of Bioinformatics, has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for $429,000 to use over the next three years. The award will support research that predicts gene regulation across populations to understand mechanisms underlying complex traits. The goal is to learn more about the genetic bases of disease in as many populations as can be studied, to reduce health disparities.
The NIH requires funded studies to deposit data in publicly available databases, such as the database of Genotypes and Phenotypes (dbGaP). The focus of the Wheeler group is to mine through dbGaP in search of literature and data where DNA and RNA from non-European cohorts is measured.
It is a great effort to mine, compute, and then analyze non-European RNA levels because “Unfortunately,” as Dr. Wheeler explains, “most of the studies have been done in European populations." Regardless, the Wheeler group pushes on, developing models from the studies they find and establishing collaborations to generate new data in underserved populations. Computing through millions of variants, and thousands of genes, across the genome.
“What we do is important because although there are certain diseases that run in families for which you can get genetically tested, there is still room for further discoveries. In only studying European populations we are missing out on most of the world.”
If we further studies of genetic data from non-European cohorts, we can learn the similarities and differences between populations’ gene expressions. This could advance implementations of ‘precision medicine’, allowing various groups of peoples to make informed decisions regarding their personal health.