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Studying nature and nurture

By Susan Green

Thanks to a $12-million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Geisel School of Medicine has established a multidisciplinary center for the study of molecular epidemiology. Over the next five years, the grant, part of the NIH's Institutional Development Award program, will fund research devoted to understanding how environmental exposures interact with genetics to affect human health. The new center is the fourth Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) created at Geisel.

"Epidemiology is becoming increasingly valued for its contribution to illuminating the causes, and, in turn, prevention of human disease," says Margaret Karagas, a professor of community and family medicine and the principal investigator on the grant.

Epidemiology is becoming increasingly valued for its contribution to illuminating the causes of human disease.

The center will have four primary projects. Brock Christensen, an assistant professor of community and family medicine and of pharmacology and toxicology, is investigating the relationship between epigenetic changes and the risk of developing breast cancer.

Diane Gilbert-Diamond, an assistant professor of community and family medicine, is leading an investigation into the relationship between in utero vitamin D and immune function in early childhood.

Building on her research in premature babies with cystic fibrosis, Juliette Madan, an assistant professor of pediatrics, is investigating bacterial colonization in pre- and full-term infants and its connection to infection and allergy risk.

Using advanced imaging techniques, Tracy Punshon, a Dartmouth College research assistant professor of biological sciences, will study the transfer of metals from mothers to infants and examine whether the mother's genotype contributes to the risk of transferring metals.

In addition, the creation of a biorepository will allow for the long-term storage and study of specimens, facilitating research by participants in the COBRE and other researchers at the medical school.

Karagas is excited about the work being done by these and other researchers. "We have an extraordinarily talented group of early career faculty conducting state-of-the-art epidemiologic research," she says. "We hope this new infrastructure will serve not only the institution, but the region and beyond."

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Geisel School of Medicine at DartmouthDartmouth-Hitchcock Medical CenterWhite River Junction VAMCNorris Cotton Cancer CenterDartmouth College