Researchers seek links between genes, social environment

Emory and UGA researchers seek to understand how genetics and social risk factors affect youths

Gene Brody

Gene Brody

Public health experts and human geneticists are coming together to better address the risky behaviors that so many children and families confront.

Behavioral sciences research professor Gene Brody leads the Center for Contextual Genetics and Prevention Science (CGAPS) at Emory and the University of Georgia (UGA). Funded by a five-year $5.6 million grant, CGAPS is one of six Core Centers of Excellence supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Through CGAPS, researchers at Emory and UGA will undertake studies on genetics and the social determinants of health, particularly among African American children, youths, and families. CGAPS will fund pilot studies for start-up projects and train future investigators. It also will serve as a repository for genetic and environmental data gathered from 4,000 African American families in Atlanta and rural Georgia. A laboratory at the University of Iowa will analyze the genetic and epigenetic (the non-genetic causes of gene expression) data provided by these families. Researchers then will tap into this data to analyze how the interplay of genetics and social determinants affect the health and well-being of children, adolescents, and young adults.

The idea for the center evolved from discussions among Brody’s colleagues at Emory, UGA, the University of Iowa, and Washington University in St. Louis. Center researchers from Emory include behavioral scientists Michael Windle, Ralph DiClemente, Gina Wingood, and Jessica Sales in the RSPH and geneticist Joe Cubells in the School of Medicine.

“There is abundant data on how families can prevent risky behaviors,” says Brody. “Recent research by our team has shown that the protective family process can ameliorate genetic risks for youths’ involvement in risky behavior. Our goal at CGAPS is to improve the quality of prevention programs to make them more effective.”

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