Gene-Environment Interactions

Exploring biological, social, and behavioral contributors to health

Integrative Global Health Research on Sickle Cell Disease

Goal: Examine the relationships among genetic, clinical, sociocultural, and environmental factors in sickle cell disease. 

Collaborators: Monika Asnani, Michael Babyak, Nirmish Shah, Kearsley Stewart, Paula Tanabe, Ambroise Wonkam

Funder: Bass Connections, Duke University

This project engages an international team of faculty and students from a variety of disciplines in collaborative research and education to develop an ecological framework for understanding and addressing sickle cell disease (SCD). SCD is the first disease whose genetic etiology was defined, and is the most common single gene disorder in humans.

The disease affects millions of people worldwide and is a major source of increased morbidity and mortality in both adults and children. The frequency and severity of SCD outcomes vary markedly between patients and at different ages; however, a substantial proportion of this variation remains unexplained by current predictive models based on genetic and other biological markers of risk.

Although research suggests that phenotypic heterogeneity in SCD reflects complicated influences of genes, environments (broadly defined to include physical, social, behavioral, etc.), and their interactions, there is very little empirical research on the role of non-biological factors in SCD outcomes and virtually no studies on gene-environment interactions in SCD.