A team of international researchers, led by Titus Galama, obtained one year of NIH funding for the project: Identifying gene-by-environment interplay in health behaviour. Smoking, alcohol consumption, and obesity are the three leading causes of preventable disease and death in the U.S. Over the past decades scientists have made progress in understanding the environmental determinants of health behaviour. For example, the role of peer groups on smoking initiation, and the role of food prices and associated portion sizes on the obesity epidemic. The past decade has also shown a massive increase in the understanding of genetic drivers of health behaviour; through regulation of appetite, impulse control, and nicotine reception.
So far, these research lines were mostly separate. There is very little known about the interaction between genes and the environment. The aim of this project is to analyze this interaction. Galama and his team seek to test the hypothesis that protective socioeconomic and policy environments moderate the effects of high-risk genetic variants for smoking, alcohol consumption, and obesity.
For example: Is the effect of environmental risk factors for smoking different depending on one’s nicotine receptor genes? Can certain environmental interventions cushion against a higher genetic risk for developing obesity? The NIH is funding the first year of the proposed project, wherein the participants can show the potential of their line of research. The consortium has been invited to resubmit the proposal for a five-year grant to continue and build on their initial line of research.