Our lab has had a longstanding, fifteen-plus year research collaboration to investigate genetic issues that are of importance to the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and surrounding Tribal community members. Another important goal of our lab is to enhance the biomedical research infrastructure at the Turtle Mountain Community College (TMCC), which has allowed continued genetic and epidemiologic research to be conducted by American Indian Investigators and TMCC students to encourage self-determination and increase research capacity.

Our Larger Genetics and Pre-Eclampsia Study

Preeclampsia is a common condition characterized by high blood pressure during pregnancy, which can be life-threatening to both mother and child. Elucidating potential genetic associations with preeclampsia was the aim of Dr. Lyle Best, an Indian Health Services family practitioner who started the study at Turtle Mountain Community College (TMCC). The lab has since associated three genetic variants of the C-reactive protein (CRP) to preeclampsia in Chippewa women and has observed that women affected by preeclampsia are at greater risk of developing hypertension later on in life.

Genetics and Cancer Study (A DaCCoTA Study)

Our immune system helps defend us from cells that have turned cancerous and a protein in our blood called C-reactive protein (CRP) is an important part of this system. As you know, we have found small changes in the gene that tells our bodies how to make CRP, which have an effect on risk of pre-eclampsia. It turns out that CRP might also have an effect on cancer, so our lab recently received funding to look into this as well. The genes that you inherit from each parent are not used by every cell in your body. The brain cells use a few thousand of the total 23,000 that you have, muscle cells use a different set and fat cells still another. If a cell is using the CRP gene, we say it is “expressing” it. Our skin and other tissues are constantly shedding cells and these can be picked up and tested for disease. That is how cancer of the cervix (mouth of the womb) can be found by a Pap smear. One of our staff may contact you to see if you would allow us to collect a few extra cells during a regular Pap smear, so that we can find out if the CRP gene is expressed in these cells and if the level is different, depending on the genes a person has inherited. American Indian women are about 2X as likely to die of cervical cancer as non-Indian women, so this is an important problem.  The best way to avoid cervical cancer is to make sure you keep up your regular Pap tests and if you are younger, take advantage of the HPV vaccine; but we think this information might help doctors learn how to better prevent, detect and treat this cancer.

ethnographic (interview) study

Krystal Tsosie will also examine in greater depth the bioethical issues around engaging tribal communities in genomics research. Because the larger Genetics and Pre-Eclampsia Study represents one of few genomics studies that have been based in a Native American Tribal community investigating a clinical phenotype, our lab has the unique opportunity to interview participants that have been involved in the study. We can use what we have learned to help inform best practices for future community-based genomics research.

A computational model of C-reactive protein, which is associated with pre-eclampsia

Other projects

Our lab also works with other Tribal communities and partner collaborations in other projects:

  • Strong Heart Study
  • Factors Influencing Pediatric Asthma (FIPA)
  • Environmental health effects relating to arsenic and heavy metal exposure from private well water