Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine

Update from Presidential Working Group on Genomics and Behavioral Medicine

In November 2016, SBM President Jim Sallis, Ph.D. charged a Working Group on Genomics and Behavioral Medicine to foster discussion regarding opportunities and concerns about genomics translation in behavioral medicine. The working group aims to engage the SBM membership to leverage SBM’s influence toward shaping the narrative regarding genomic translation. Below we share ideas from a few working group members.

  1. How is genomics relevant to behavioral medicine?

Bill Klein, Ph.D. (BK): One of the main interests of behavioral medicine is how human behavior influences the effectiveness of medical practice and intervention.  Genomics gets right at the heart of this integration, because the impactful use of genomic information in medicine depends strongly on emotion, motivation, decision making, communication, and to some extent persuasion.  Genomics also provides an ecologically valid context to examine constructs such as risk perception, health decision making, and health literacy. 

Kim Kaphingst, Ph.D. (KK): Genomic information informs individuals' risk of disease, making the information important for targeting those at increased risk with disease prevention and screening interventions.  Genomic information may also allow individual tailoring of intervention approaches to individual’s disease risk.  Genomics may also affect how individuals respond to behavioral interventions.

Colleen McBride, Ph.D., Chair of Working Group (CM): This is the main question for the working group! We need discussions about how we can get behavioral science at the genomics table. So much of the discovery work to date is focused on gene-disease or gene-drug response associations.  We need a better understanding of the interactions of genetic interactions with social environment, health behavior and our behavior change interventions.

  1. What are examples of how genomics can be integrated into behavioral medicine research?

BK: Although a fairly nascent field, good examples are beginning to accumulate, such as the integration of genetic and genomic information into tobacco addiction treatment. Another example is the ClinSeq project at the National Human Genome Research Institute to examine genomic predictors of cardiovascular disease. A social/behavioral team at National Institutes of Health is examining psychosocial constructs related to how participants engage with their genomic information.

KK: Risk communication and behavior change theories can inform whether and how genomic risk information may impact individuals.  For example, decision making models can inform our research into the types of genomic results that individuals would want to have returned.

CM: One of my favorite examples is a study by Burd and colleagues (Obesity, 2013) that examined the ‘super taster’ phenotype and interaction with the fast food environment. People were asked to place a little tab on their tongue and some were highly sensitive to bitter taste and others were not (‘non-taster phenotype’). When the study team looked at geo-spatial locations of fast food locations, individuals who were non-tasters in areas of high density fast food restaurants were more overweight than super-tasters in the same neighborhoods. Results exemplify how a high-risk phenotype (not tasting bitterness) interacts with the environment (high-fat restaurants) to yield differential health outcomes for the most susceptible.

   3. How can SBM members learn more about genomics?

BK: Read, and read some more. Look at Public Health Genomics and recent special issues in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine and the Journal of Health Communication. Contact colleagues involved in whole-genome sequencing studies to discuss incorporating behavioral measures or interventions into larger studies.

KK: Attend relevant sessions at the SBM Annual Meeting or read articles in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine and Translational Behavioral Medicine. Webinars are offered by the Centers for Disease Control Office of Public Health Genomics and the American Public Health Association. Academic medical centers offer training positions in genomics topics with a focus on interdisciplinary research.

CM: I think when people are able to plug into an inviting and collaborative research group, we can learn more about genomics, how to ‘speak the language’ and make it more relatable to our work.

  4. What are relevant funding opportunities?

BK: The Precision Medicine Initiative (now “All of Us”) has funded several projects, but genomics is so ubiquitous that one need not seek out special funding but rather think about how genomics can provide another perspective (e.g., genetics of responses to weight loss interventions). 

KK: There are a number of large mechanisms, such as the Centers of Excellence in Ethical Legal and Social Implications Research and Clinical Sequencing Exploratory Research grants, which have emphasized translational genomics research. 

CM: Examples include implementation science such as proposals related to the Evaluations of Genomic Applications in Practice and Prevention recommended genomic applications that are ready for implementation.

Interested in learning more or becoming involved in activities of the Working Group on Genomics and Behavioral Medicine? Contact Anne Hahn at ahahn@sbm.org