Last month, researchers worldwide gained access to genetic data linked to medical information on a diverse group of more than 78,000 people.
The data was made available to qualified researchers through the database of Genotypes and Phenotypes (dbGaP), the online database of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and it was derived from one of the United State’s largest and most diverse genomics projects — the Genetic Epidemiology Research on Adult Health and Aging (GERA) cohort — which was developed collaboratively by the Kaiser Permanente Research Program on Genes, Environment and Health (RPGEH) and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
“Data from this immense and ethnically diverse population will be a tremendous resource for science,” NIH Director Francis Collins said. “It offers the opportunity to identify potential genetic risks and influences on a broad range of health conditions, particularly those related to aging.”
In addition, this new data represents one more in what has become a long string of research contributions made possible by the Kaiser Permanente Research Program on Genes, Environment and Health (RPGEH).
Launched in 2005, RPGEH is one of the largest research projects in the United States to examine the genetic and environmental factors that influence common diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma and many others. Its goal is to discover which genes and environmental factors—the air we breathe, the water we drink, as well as lifestyles and habits—are linked to specific diseases.
As the largest and oldest nonprofit medical care program in the nation, Kaiser Permanente is one of few organizations in the United States with both the scientific expertise and a membership population suitable for such an extensive effort. According it its website, RPGEH researchers are collecting medical, lifestyle, demographic, environmental and, in some cases, genetic information from up to 500,000 California Kaiser Permanente members.
Of course, participation in the RPGEH is completely voluntary. Researchers invite members to give a biological sample in the form of blood or saliva that can be used to obtain genetic information, and before any research involving genetic information can occur, informed, written consent is obtained.
Then, environmental information, such as information about air and water quality, proximity to parks and healthy foods, will be included in the resource, as well.