Genetics researchers from Kaiser Permanente and the University of California at San Francisco have reached what they describe as a milestone in a two-year research project by genotyping and analyzing the chromosome tips of 100,000 volunteer research subjects.
Kaiser calls EHR data crucial in genomics project
The genotyping work was funded by a $24.8 million, two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health and conducted by Kaiser Permanente's Research Program on Genes, Environment and Health and by UCSF's Institute for Human Genetics, according to a news release from Kaiser and UCSF.
The Kaiser program focuses on epidemiologic studies of genetic and environmental influences on common health conditions, including asthma, cancer and diabetes. The genetic information was gleaned from saliva swabs taken from Northern California patients with an average age of 65. As part of the project, researchers measured the length of participants' telomeres, described in the release as "tiny units of DNA that bind the ends of chromosomes." Telomeres' length, the release notes, may reflect aging at the cellular level and may be a marker for age-related conditions. Genetic information will now be linked to data gleaned from a participant health survey, each participant's medical records stored in Kaiser's electronic health-record system and state-provided environmental data related to air pollution and water quality as well as "neighborhood characteristics, such as proximity to parks, grocery stores and healthy foods," according to the release.
Kaiser Permanente Northern California's research division founded the genetics-research program in 2005 and began enrolling participants in 2007 with a goal of registering a half-million Kaiser Permanente members by 2014, according to the news release. So far, 188,000 have signed up.
Neil Risch, director of the UCSF genetics institute and co-director of Kaiser's genetics-research program, said in the release that the pace of the project was possible only because of the alignment of a number of critical factors, including Kaiser's investment in a comprehensive EHR system.
"The truth is that this project would have been impossible at any other time or place," Risch said. "No single institution could have combined this level of genetic science with such deep health records on this diverse and large a number of patients." According to Kaiser Permanente, data from the genetics-research program are used "only for approved research and will never be used to set or increase health insurance premiums or make decisions on a member's” health insurance coverage. Kaiser does not sell the information, the release added.
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