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Kaiser to do major health study

first_imgKaiser expects about 500,000 of its members to return the surveys over the next four months in the latest attempt to unravel the complex causes of common diseases such as asthma, cancer and depression. Kaiser’s Research Program on Genes, Environment and Health dwarfs all similar projects except one of similar size in the United Kingdom. The National Institutes of Health last year launched a genes and environment project that could study as many as 1,000 people and the biotechnology company deCODE Genetics has also compiled a database containing the genetic makeup and medical history of more than 100,000 citizens of Iceland. Kaiser’s goal of enrolling up to 500,000 of its members is rivaled in ambition only by the government-backed UK Biobank, which was launched last year and also intends to survey and collect genetic material from a like number of United Kingdom residents. UCSF genetics scientist Neil Risch said the Kaiser project will produce results quicker and includes a broader array of volunteers than the British study, which intends to follow the health of people ages 40 to 69 for up to 30 years in Great Britain. Risch, who is the co-leader of the Kaiser project, said the HMO’s members represent all socioeconomic and ethnic groups. He also said UK Biobank researchers are essentially starting from scratch while Kaiser already has decades worth of medical data gathered from its members. While a few well-known illnesses such as sickle cell anemia are caused by a single, mutated gene, most diseases are caused by environmental influences and subtle differences in multiple genes. “This program is not just about genes,” Risch said. “We also have a clear understanding that nothing in this life is entirely genetic and that environment plays a role in disease.” The Oakland-based company’s research arm is running the project and Kaiser officials sought Wednesday to allay privacy concerns and fears that the volunteers’ medical information might be shared with health plan administrators. “The information does not go into members’ medical records,” said Kaiser scientist Cathy Schaefer, the other co-leader of the project. Still, some wondered whether enough Kaiser members trust the HMO to participate in the survey. “That’s an open question,” said Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. The initial phase of the project – mailing and collecting the surveys – will cost about $7 million. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! SAN FRANCISCO – Health care provider Kaiser Permanente has launched a massive study into the complex interplay of genetics, environment and lifestyles that cause many common diseases. Kaiser researchers are sending detailed surveys to its 2 million adult members asking about their habits, family medical histories and many other factors that influence health. In a second phase it hopes to start next year, Kaiser will ask members to donate genetic material through cheek swabs or blood draws. The plan is to combine that information with the company’s massive medical history records in a database that researchers can use to gain a deeper understanding of disease causes and develop treatments. “This is a vital and important effort to improve the health of people everywhere,” said Dr. David Kessler, head of the University of California, San Francisco, medical school who attended Wednesday’s news conference announcing the endeavor. last_img read more

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