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Genetics Company Lands NIH Allergies, Asthma Research Grant

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The genetic testing company 23andMe in Mountain View, California received funding from National Institutes of Health for research into the genetics of allergies and asthma. The company also received two other NIH grants, to assess accuracy of new sequencing technologies in clinical applications and develop better genetic research tools based on information in the 23andMe database. The three grants, awarded under NIH’s Small Business Innovation Research program, total more than $573,000.

The study of allergies and asthma aims to uncover genetic factors affecting allergic disease risk, and to assess gene environment interactions, as well as treatment responses. The research technique in this project, called genome wide association study, examines complex traits with both genetic and environmental contributions and requires large data sets to be effective. Identifying genetic associations improves understanding of disease mechanisms in the body that can lead to better diagnostics and treatments of allergic conditions.

The company says its research cohort has more than 25,000 individuals reporting one or more allergies, as well as some 8,000 cases reporting asthma and more than 5,000 reporting eczema. The 23andMe research cohort also has data on more than 100,000 individuals that can serve as comparisons.

The study to assess the accuracy of new sequencing technologies will investigate error rates from next-generation sequencing technologies to help define data-quality metrics and technical specifications for a personalized genome service based on sequencing. The 23andMe project will examine the accuracy of technology used to sequence 150 exomes — the part of the genome with the information needed to encode all proteins — including 50 new exomes with disease-associated variants sequenced for this project, and 100 whole genomes.

The genetic research tools study will investigate genetic and phenotypic — from observable traits — data in 23andMe’s database of 180,000 customers that can lead to new surveys and data collection instruments for improving the database’s utility for whole-genome sequencing. The project aims to measure and improve the reliability of self-reported data, analyze and organize survey responses for new traits, and demonstrate the feasibility of a Web-based approach to studying a broad range of conditions.

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