Gene-Environment Interaction

Program Overview

Boerwinkle Eric1 | Gene Environment Interaction

Eric Boerwinkle, Ph.D. Program Co-Director Director / Division of Epidemiology UTHealth School of Public Health Human Genetics Center, IMM

Northrup Hope | Gene Environment Interaction

Hope Northrup, MD Program Co-Director Professor and Director Pediatric Genetics Medical School

The Houston Laboratory and Population Sciences Training Program in Gene-Environment Interaction is designed to recruit and prepare doctoral graduate students to address some of the most challenging biomedical research issues of our time.  These include the contributing causes of common chronic diseases, the impact of genetic and environmental factors on the safety, specificity, or effectiveness of therapeutic agents, and the environmental and maternal factors that contribute to congenital and developmental abnormalities. This highly innovative program will train researchers to address critical health problems by studying the combined impact of genetic susceptibility factors and modifiable environmental factors on disease. Participants will work in cutting-edge research environments un­der the supervision of outstanding faculty men­tors from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), Baylor College of Medicine (BCM), and The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (UT-MDACC).

Program Overview

This is a multidisciplinary training program for PhD students interested in research projects designed to comprehensively study genetic variation, the impact of environmental exposure, and the effects of these interactions on human health.

programgraphic jc | Gene Environment Interaction

The primary objective of this program is to train future scientists in a unique multidisciplinary field integrating population-based studies, laboratory sciences, and informatics. Population-based research in the field of public health has made major contributions to our understanding of environmental factors and their relationship to disease, such as smoking and cancer, asbestos and pulmonary disease, diet or drug exposure and birth defects, alcohol abuse and cirrhosis, and viral infections and cervical cancers. The field of human genetics has contributed significantly to our new knowledge and understanding of genes causative of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and some affective disorders. The area of informatics is playing an important role in defining the future of healthcare through better tools to advance treatments and cures, and providing information access for both doctors and patients. These three important fields are combined to provide a unique experience for participants who will acquire the knowledge and skills to face the medical challenges of the future.

Participants will receive specialized training in state-of-the art laboratories under the supervision of outstanding faculty. Upon completion of the program, participants will be expected to master a series of core competencies.

The program is supported by the Burroughs Wellcome FundThere are no off-site appointments, and this program does not grant degrees.

News Release at UT Health

Burroughs Wellcome Fund Press Release, February 19, 2009

Program Governance

The program is co-directed by Dr. Eric Boerwinkle and Dr. Hope Northrup. A steering committee of faculty from the three partner institutions provide guidance for the planning and implementation of all aspects of this program. An external advisory committee is responsible for evaluating and providing feedback of the program.

Core Competencies

By participating in this training program, students will:

  • Understand biostatistical principles and methods.
  • Understand the use of biomarkers in population-based research.
  • Obtain a deeper understanding of new techniques used in medical genetics, such as:
    • Genotyping
    • Second generation sequencing
    • Proteomics and metabolomics
    • Transcriptome analysis
  • Be able to apply informatics to investigate potential associations between genes and the environment in human diseases.

Participating Institutions

Training Program Components

  • Course work in genomics combined with population-based studies and bioinformatics
  • Laboratory research work under the supervision of two experienced faculty with complementary expertise
  • Seminars
  • Option to pursue additional studies in epidemiology or biomedical informatics
  • Paid travel to scientific meetings (for students presenting posters or talks)
  • Professional development activities


Case Studies in Gene-Environment Interaction Course

This fall course offered through the UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences examines classic examples of environmental impacts on genes that may either cause or protect from human disease.


  • Introduction to Gene-Environment Interaction – Dr. Eric Boerwinkle
  • Next Generation Sequencing– Dr. Manuel Gonzalez-Garay
    • Part One
    • Part Two
    • Part Three
  • Bioinformatics – Dr. Paul Scheet
    • Genotype Imputation

External Opportunities

Students have opportunities to enroll in advanced courses at other institutions throughout the U.S. as needed to develop skills in areas such as statistical genetics, quantitative genetics, R programming, and more.

Certificate Programs in Public Health or Biomedical Informatics

Participants in this program can choose to enroll in a non-degree certificate programs in public health or biomedical informatics.

The Certificate in Public Health consists of a five-course, 16-hour program of study covering the core content of the certificate discipline (General Public Health or Public Health Informatics). Courses are available on-line or at UTHealth School of Public Health located in the Texas Medical Center.  A certificate is awarded to students who pass all five courses. The certificate program is designed to be completed in one year.  More information about the Certificate Program in Public Health.

The Certificate in Health Information Sciences is designed for self-motivated students working in the health care and information technology fields. It provides an increased understanding of the opportunities and challenges involved in integrating information technology into healthcare. Five courses are required for completion of the certificate. All are available on-line through UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics. More information about the Certificate Program in Health Information Sciences.

Participating Faculty

The Houston Laboratory and Population Sciences Training Program in Gene-Environment Interaction has more than 40 distinguished faculty members from UTHealth Schools of Medicine, Public Health, Health Information Sciences, and Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, The Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and Baylor College of Medicine. The mentors have established, well-funded research programs using the latest molecular techniques and have excellent facilities. In this program, participants will be mentored by two faculty members with complementary expertise in the three core areas.

The primary mentor serves as the dissertation advisor. The secondary mentor is expected to offer complementary expertise and advice to the student, in particular balancing genetic and environmental expertise. In most cases, the secondary mentor (or mentors if more than one is chosen) will be a member of the student’s advisory or supervisory committee as part of the regular graduate training experience. Therefore, the responsibilities of the secondary mentor are the same responsibilities as any secondary mentor in the student’s particular PhD program.  Both, primary and secondary mentors must be members of the GXE training program faculty.

Applicants must present rationale for selecting a mentor who is not part of the program, and the mentor must submit a new faculty application (See eligibility section).


October 2010
March 2011
October 2011
Summer 2012
Winter 2013