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Why It Matters  |  What We Are Doing Who Is Involved


Why It Matters

Though the Human Genome Project was declared complete in 2003, we now know that there is much more to learn.  Each of us has at least 50,000 polymorphisms (spelling differences) in our genetic code.  These spelling differences are inherited from our ancestors, and differ greatly between people from different areas of the world.  They explain some of the differences in metabolism and risks for developing diseases, and understanding them will allow for a targeted “individual” approach to improving public health.  Also, we are learning that there are switches on our genes that are turned on or off by environment and diet early in life, and that this retunes metabolism and our immune system. The study of these switches that are sensitive to our environment is called “Epigenetics”, and understanding them will allow for new approaches for the prevention of chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease.

What We Are Doing

Biomarkers for breast cancer, an individually tailored diet, understanding how a global poison like arsenic is impacting the epigenetic switches in people who have been exposed …our School faculty are leaders across the growing field of genomics. Read More

The Nutrition Research Institute in Kannapolis, led by Nutrition distinguished professor Dr. Steven Zeisel, specializes in the rapidly growing field of nutrigenomics, or the link between genes and diet. Zeisel and his team are dedicated to developing the field on individualized nutrition – understanding why people have different metabolism and requirements for nutrients.  These discoveries will lead to individually tailored nutrition recommendations that will allow people to customize their diets in order to maximize wellness and reduce the risk of diseases such as cancer, birth defects and heart disease.  Faculty members at the Institute also is uncovering how diet during the first 1000 days after conception influences how metabolism is “tuned” and changes the development of brain, eye, heart and many other organs. Dr. Mehmet Oz, surgeon, author and talk show host, has recognized the Nutrition Research Institute as a national leader in this field.

Other Gillings faculty are identifying biomarkers that could better indicate which people with breast cancer are at highest risk of recurrence, and how genes affect who is obese, has hypertension or goes through puberty earlier than their peers. Understanding the role that genes play is a critical step in creating more individually specific, effective preventive measures and treatments.

On the environmental front, our researchers are showing how contaminants such as arsenic, cadmium or ingredients in some plastics and natural or man-made pollutants in drinking water and the atmosphere can create changes in people’s genetic makeup, creating additional health risks and leading to health problems for future generations. Our researchers are examining epigenetic changes in adults and children exposed to metals such as arsenic, both in Mexico and in North Carolina.

Who Is Involved

Our leaders in genomics come from across the Gilling School, and include our world-class faculty, staff, post-docs and students. This overview only captures a fraction of the important research, teaching, and public service efforts in genomics at the Gillings School. Please explore the individual leader descriptions to learn more about their work.