Social Epigenomics Research Focused on Minority Health and Health Disparities (R01/R21)
The NIMHD social epigenomics research program has been established to 1) advance the science of epigenomics focused on minority health and health disparities, (2) expand our understanding of epigenetic mechanisms by which social factors lead to biological changes that in turn influence health or modify disease risk that may contribute to health disparities, and (3) promote epigenetics research to better diagnose disease risk or resiliency among health disparity populations. Additionally, the program promotes multidisciplinary collaborations that will combine the knowledge and scientific expertise of social scientists, public health researchers and molecular biologists to develop innovative strategies to understand the mechanisms that may create or contribute to the persistence of health disparities.
Social epigenomics is the study of how social experiences affect the genes and our biology. Our experiences do not alter the genetic code itself. However, social experiences may bring about changes in the various molecules that interact with DNA, determining which genes are switched on or off. This biological mechanism for controlling gene expression is called the epigenome. The epigenome can be dynamically altered by social and environmental experiences. Studies of how social factors influence the epigenome hold great promise for understanding how social environments affect minority health and lead to health disparities. For example, people who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods are exposed to many social stressors, such as violence or the threat of violence, segregated housing, limited access to healthy food, and psychosocial stress. Studies on the interplay of social factors and the epigenome will help explain and address the drivers of health disparities and inform the development of effective interventions.