Genetic Epidemiology

Genetic epidemiology is the study of the genetic determinants of diseases in populations. The primary focus of our research is the common diseases that affect humans, especially heart disease and cancer.

The major challenge to genetic epidemiologists is the detection and localization of genes that affect disease and how those genes interact with environmental factors. This problem is unsolved and is the subject of intense research by genetic epidemiologists worldwide.

Highlighted Research

Genetic Variation in Vitamin D Metabolism and BMT Outcomes

Principal Investigator: Kim Robien
Investigators: DeAnn Lazovich, Julie Ross, Sarah Cooley, K. Scott Baker
Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute
For the more than 40,000 people who receive blood and marrow transplantations (BMT) worldwide each year, treatment related morbidity and mortality especially graft-vs-host disease (GVHD), disease relapse and treatment related mortality, remains a substantial concern. Because of its immunomodulatory and cell cycle regulatory activities, maintaining adequate vitamin D status throughout the treatment course may decrease risk of GVHD and disease relapse, which in turn, could result in improved survival rates compared to individuals who are vitamin D deficient. Little is known about vitamin D status during BMT, although there is reason to believe that vitamin D deficiency is common. The long-term goal is to understand how nutrition interventions can be used to minimize the toxic side effects of cancer treatment, enhance the effectiveness of treatment, and decrease the late-effects of cancer treatment. The objective of this project, is to determine the extent to which genetic variation in the vitamin D biosynthesis pathway is associated with treatment outcome in the BMT population. The central hypothesis is that genetic variation in the vitamin D biosynthesis and metabolism pathways influences vitamin D status, especially on a local, tissue-specific level, and thus can alter risk of acute GVHD, disease relapse, and survival. This study will be the first to comprehensively evaluate the association between genetic variation in the entire vitamin D biosynthesis pathway and BMT outcomes. At the end of this project, we expect to have preliminary data for a future intervention study to evaluate the effect of maintenance of adequate vitamin D levels on BMT outcomes.

Evaluating Vitamin D Exposure and Metabolism

Principal Investigator: Kim Robien
Investigators: DeAnn Lazovich
Funding Agency: Minnesota Medical Foundation
This pilot study will compare questionnaire data collected from 100 healthy volunteers on all-source vitamin D exposures to serum 25-hydroxycholecalciferol levels in order to assess the accuracy of the questionnaire, and to determine whether genetic variants in the vitamin D biosynthesis pathway are associated with alterations in serum vitamin D levels, and if so, which polymorphisms are most predictive of serum levels.