The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will receive $5.6 million in federal funding to launch a new center for genomics-related research.

The National Human Genome Research Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, picked UNC and the University of Pennsylvania for the centers. The programs will focus on ethical, legal and social issues related to genetic and genomic research.

The NHGRI launched its Centers for Excellence in Ethical, Legal and Social Implications Research program in 2004.

"Examining the emerging ethical, legal and social implications of genomic research is central to our goal of safely and effectively moving discoveries into the clinic," said NHGRI Director Francis Collins. "These centers will work to identify and address the most pressing issues being confronted by individuals, families and communities as a result of genetic and genomic research."

Collins, a pioneer in mapping of the human genome, is a graduate of the UNC medical school.

The centers will use the funding to recruit teams of experts in various fields ranging from theology to bioethics and clinical research.

UNC will receive $5.6 million over five years.

Gail Henderson, a professor of social medicine at the UNC School of Medicine, will lead the project.

The NHGRI program calls for UNC to focus on issues related to what it called “large scale genomics.”

“Genetic and genomic research has traditionally focused on small groups of people with relatively rare diseases. But cheaper and more efficient technologies are making it feasible to launch efforts involving thousands of individuals, many of which are aimed at uncovering gene variants involved in common diseases,” the NHGRI said. “The Center for Genomics and Society will assemble an interdisciplinary team to conduct research focusing on the ethical, legal and social issues unique to large-scale genomics.

“Specifically, the center’s team will examine the impacts of discoveries from large-scale genomic research for individuals, families and populations, with a particular focus on studies with implications for specific racial, ethnic or other socially defined groups,” the institute added. “In addition, the center will look at the effect of large-scale genomic research on informed consent, the regulation and use of DNA samples, and the control and dissemination of large and complex data sets. The center will also offer a research consultation service to genomic researchers. The research conducted at the center will contribute to the translation of genomic research findings into clinical or public health practice.”

The Pennsylvania effort will focus on developing tools to help consumers, doctors, healthcare providers and insurers to better understand genetic testing.