Ferhat Ay with the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology was awarded a $2.24 million grant to for research into genetic variation and disease risk.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences provided the grant, part of a program aiding promising young scientists.

Ay’s area of focus includes the three-dimensional architecture of the genome, a unique approach.

“Many genome-wide association studies have searched the genome for small variations that correlate with certain diseases or expression of disease-related genes but they have only done so in one dimension,” explains Ay. “This one-dimensional approach fails to fully explain the relationship between genetic variation and genome function. We will now take up this challenge to the three-dimensional space, which is where DNA lives. Human immune cells readily available from the blood provide us a perfect test bed to establish this concept,” Ay said in a news release.

Ay and others have recently shown that changes to genome architecture can spark alterations in gene activity, which can increase disease risk or cause disease.