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Approved Research

Interactions between genetic susceptibility loci and environmental risk factors in cancer and chronic disease

Principal Investigator: Dr Neal Freedman
Approved Research ID: 66464
Approval date: June 7th 2021

Lay summary

Aims: The aims of this project are to determine whether there are certain genetic variants that make people more susceptible to environmental and lifestyle risk factors.

Scientific Rationale: Complex diseases such as cancer and heart disease are known to have both genetic and environmental causes. Many lifestyle and environmental risk factors have been identified, including cigarette smoking, occupational exposures, air pollution, and exercise. There are also known genetic contributors, as people are born with genetic variants that make them more or less likely to develop disease. Although it is possible that each of these factors contribute to disease independently, it is also possible that there exist genetic variants which synergize with environmental factors to cause disease. For example, not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer. It may be that some people are born with genetic variants which make them more likely to get lung cancer if they smoke. Studies aimed at identifying such gene-environment interactions have largely failed. Yet, a new era of large studies with comprehensive assessments of environmental and lifestyle factors as well as comprehensive genetic data, such as the UK Biobank, may potentially allow for the identification of gene-environment interactions in a systematic and reproducible way.

Methodology: We will try to identify whether there are genetic loci which contribute to cancer and other chronic diseases among participants with certain environmental and lifestyle risk factors for these diseases, for example people who smoke, are obese, or drink lots of alcohol. We will also examine whether associations with previously identified genetic susceptibility loci vary among people with different risk factors.

Project duration: 36 months

Public health impact: The goals of this research are to better understand the causes of cancer and other chronic diseases. Understanding interactions between genetics and environmental risk factors may also increase our knowledge of disease mechanisms and suggest new approaches for disease prevention and treatment.