NIH backs research to put genomic data into electronic medical records

As researchers home in on the genetic underpinnings of disease, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is awarding a dozen grants to scientists who are exploring ways to combine genomic test information with electronic health records to improve care for patients.

The grants, which will be doled out by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), fund projects under the NIH's eMERGE program. The initiative is meant to spur genomic research by examining 100 genes and seeing how differences in the genes could affect a person's health or treatment choices, the NIH said in a statement.

In particular, scientists will look for ways to provide DNA test results to doctors and patients, and how physicians could use the information to enhance treatment, Rongling Li, program director for eMERGE at the NHGRI, said in a statement.

"The newly funded projects are focused on discovering genes and gene variants with clinical implications by using the latest sequencing technologies to examine rare and common variants suspected to relate to disease risk and treatment effects," Li said in a statement. "The other important component of these grants is implementing what researchers learn about these gene variants into medical settings to improve patient care."

Ten groups received about $3 million in grants each, while two groups, including one at Brigham and Women's Hospital and another at Houston's Baylor College of Medicine, got $8 million in funding to spur genomic research. Projects span different disorders, but will all use DNA sequencing to look at an individual's genetic makeup and combine the information with electronic medical records. For example, a team at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia will use DNA sequencing information from tissue samples to screen for rare variants in 2,500 children with autism, ADHD or other mental disorders, and will return the information to 160 patients and their families.

An eMERGE coordinating center will offer logistical support to scientists. And the program will also offer two sequencing and genotyping facilities, the NIH said in a statement, providing infrastructure as researchers carry out their projects.

- read the NIH statement