Wednesday, January 14, 2009

RWJF Awards Grant

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded Kaiser Permanente $8.6 million to develop one of the world’s largest and most diverse source of information for genetic, environmental, and health data. Scientists will use the repository known as a biobank as part of a comprehensive research initiative to establish the genetic and environmental factors that influence common diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s, asthma, and others.

“Understanding the critical interaction between genes and the environment on health will have an important impact on the way all of us look at health and disease in the future”, said Cathy Schaefer, PhD, Director of the Kaiser Permanente Research Program on Genes, Environment and Health (RPGEH).

The grant will enable Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California Division of Research to gather, store, and protect the biobanks first 200,000 samples of DNA and build a secure database with relevant health and environmental information. The goal is to expand the biobank to 500,000 samples by 2012, and provide a population based database with enough statistical information to be used to identify even subtle effects of environmental and genetic factors for such conditions as mental health disorders and autoimmune diseases.

Research findings from the database could be used to tailor medication to an individual patient and to prescribe lifestyle changes that could prevent life threatening diseases. The data could help researchers do population-based studies designed to better understand genetic and non-genetic factors that could affect the severity or recurrence of common diseases such as cancer or diabetes. These studies would make use of the database’s longitudinal electronic medical records to help tailor tests and treatments to reduce disease severity and recurrence.

Projects scheduled to start in 2009 include a study to uncover genetic and non-genetic factors that put African American men at higher risk for prostate cancer and do a large study on the bipolar mental disorders that can run in families in order to examine specific genes that can determine susceptibility to the mental disorder.

There are concerns about security if the genetic information becomes public. All biorepository data and DNA samples are de-identified and stored in secure locations with limited authorized access. In the database, each participant will be given a unique code that will replace their medical record number, name, and other identifying information. The code can only be linked back to identifying information by a small number of research staff members who must have a special password and go through a rigorous approval process in order to use the database.

Biorepository data including genetic information will not be entered into electronic medical records for individual patients. The KP Division of Research maintains separate information and databases from the health plan and members medical records.

For more information, go to