Researches exposed their initial findings at the annual conference of the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) this week in San Francisco.
The project by Kaiser Permanente (KP), the giant health care organization, is the largest such “biobank” in the United States, with 100,000 northern Californians of its health plan recruited so far. The biobank may also grow—a total of 200,000 KP members have donated biological samples and 430,000 have filled out a survey saying they’re interested in participating.
More than ten years ago, the company deCODE genetics in Iceland led the way with Biobank now holding data on 140,000 participants, and UK Biobank, which has enrolled 500,000 people, may be the largest such study in the world.
The KP project aims to link participants’ medical records with their genetic biomarkers, lifestyle factors and environmental exposures to determine which are associated with certain diseases.
The project also includes a measuring of participants telomeres, protective pieces of DNA material at the ends of every chromosome in every cell in the body., whose shortening with each cell division is thought to be associated with the deterioration that accompanies ageing.
Researchers have confirmed these findings at a conference:
Connection between greater risk of dying and shorter telomeres.
Links between certain genetic markers, known as SNPs (single-nucleotide polymorphisms), and cholesterol levels associated with heart disease risk.
Fact that telomeres tend to be shorter in older people, and in those who smoke and drink alcohol.
“This is obviously a very rich set of data that we want to be widely used,” say the biobank’s curators, “And that’s just the beginning”.