New NIH-funded resource focuses on use of genomic variants in medical care

Oct. 3, 2013

Three grants totaling more than $25 million over four years will help three research groups to develop authoritative information on the millions of genomic variants relevant to human disease and the hundreds that are expected to be useful for clinical practice. The awards are from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

More and more medical and research centers are sequencing the DNA of whole genomes (the body’s entire genetic blueprint) or exomes (the genome’s protein-coding region) of patients. Each time, millions of DNA differences in genes and the regions between the genes are detected. But doctors struggle to know which of those differences, called variants, are relevant to disease and for a patient’s medical care. As a result, information on few genomic variants is used in clinical practice.

It is difficult to determine the roles of variants in common complex diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, where dozens of variants may be involved, each usually having a small effect. The resource’s investigators will focus first on variants underlying certain forms of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic disorders.

The grants will support a consortium of research groups to develop the Clinical Genome Resource (ClinGen). The investigators will design and implement a framework for evaluating which variants play a role in disease and those that are relevant to patient care, and will work closely with the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), which will distribute this information through its ClinVar database. Learn more about the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of NIH.