Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Communities
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Massive Genomics Project Answers Questions, Poses New Ones in Health, Genetics and Aging

Published: Thursday, November 22, 2012
Last Updated: Thursday, November 22, 2012
Bookmark and Share
Initial findings focus on telomere trends with ethnicity, socioeconomic status, lifestyle.

People with the shortest telomeres really do have a date with the Grim Reaper, according to new data coming out of the largest and most diverse genomics, health and longevity project in the nation.

Among the initial results from the Grand Opportunity Project on genetics, health, aging and the environment – a joint project between Kaiser Permanente and UCSF – is the finding that the 10 percent of people with the shortest telomere lengths had more than a 20 percent higher risk of dying during the ensuing three years than any other group.

But whether these shortened DNA nibs at the end of our chromosomes are harbingers of death or actually contribute to our downfall remains in question.

The new findings, and the increasing questions they pose, are some of the first results to emerge from the Kaiser Permanente-UCSF project that was launched in 2009 as the scientific equivalent of the large-scale infrastructure projects of the 1930s, such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Hoover Dam.

Joining Forces for Massive Genetic Analysis

Supported with $25 million through the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the project set out to combine the strong epidemiological research and comprehensive, consistent health records at Kaiser Permanente with UCSF’s strengths in genetics and telomere research, to create a national resource that would transform health science into the foreseeable future.

The overall project links a genetic analysis of 110,266 saliva samples collected at Kaiser Permanente of Northern California over the past five years to decades of Kaiser Permanente health records, as well as UCSF measurements of longevity markers and state environmental exposures. That health data includes thousands of pharmacy records and years of cholesterol and lipid tests, as well as mammograms, EKGs and MRI scans, all performed in the same laboratories with consistent techniques.

That is an invaluable resource, the researchers said, and already is starting to show results.

“We discovered 103 different genes underlying HDL and LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, with p values (statistical significance) that have never been seen before, and there’s more to come,” said Neil Risch, PhD, director of the UCSF Institute for Human Genetics, who is jointly leading the overall project with Cathy Schaefer, PhD, in the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research.

“What underlies these traits and diseases are many, many genes,” said Risch, a statistical geneticist who already has uncovered numerous genetic SNPS (single nucleotide polymorphisms) through this project that have never before been detected. “To see them all, you need very large samples. That’s what we have in this project.”

Its first results are both substantiating and refuting findings from smaller projects, while posing new questions for scientists to tackle in the years to come.

“We’re at the beginning of some really interesting analyses of telomere length,” said Schaefer, an epidemiologist who led the analyses of the telomere data, after the telomeres were measured in the UCSF laboratory of Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD.

“We know that telomere length declines with age and several studies have shown that telomere length is related to a number of diseases,” Schaefer said. “The question is whether the length is simply a marker of cumulative experiences, or whether it plays a direct role in health.”

Some Surprising Findings on Telomeres

The initial findings, which stem from a one-year extension to begin analyses using the remainder of the team’s ARRA funding, were presented as talks and posters during the American Society of Human Genetics conference in San Francisco on Nov. 7-8.

Among the findings were a number of genes connected to diabetes, cancer and autoimmune diseases, among other health conditions.

There also was clear evidence that telomeres are longer in African-Americans and in people with higher educational status, while they are shorter for people in low socioeconomic communities. Telomeres also rise sharply in men who are over 75 years old and in women over 80, which the researchers said probably means that these individuals – through genetics or long-term lifestyle – were programmed on a cellular basis to outlast their peers.

Smoking and alcohol consumption also were directly linked to shorter telomeres, with a direct correlation between the number of packs of cigarettes smoked during a lifetime and shorter DNA nibs on an individual’s chromosomes, which the researchers said validated the link between what we know about overall health conditions and our cellular health. But they found no link between exercise and telomere length, which has previously been reported.

The great surprise so far, Schaefer said, was in participants with the highest Body Mass Index, who consistently showed longer telomeres. That’s despite extensive data showing that these individuals have more health problems and worse health prognoses overall.

The UCSF Institute for Human Genetics, through its Genomics Core Facility, also derived genetic information at 700,000 or more locations in the genome for each individual.  The resulting combination of health and genetic data, which includes over 70 billion genotypes and took two years to collect and quantify, is currently available as a resource through the Kaiser Permanente-UCSF team for external researchers studying the genetic or environmental basis of disease.

Later this fall, much of the data also will be incorporated into a national database known as dbGAP, run by the National Institutes of Health, which will be available to researchers worldwide.

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,700+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 3,800+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

New Autism Genes Are Revealed in Largest-Ever Study
Work draws more detailed picture of genetic risk, sheds light on sex differences in diagnosis.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Influenza A Viruses More Likely To Emerge In East Asia Than North America
Novel strains of influenza A are more likely to emerge in East Asia than in North America, according to a global analysis by the One Health Institute at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and EcoHealth Alliance.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Opening the Door to Safer, More Precise Cancer Therapies
New method regulates when, and how strongly, cancer-killing therapeutic T cells are activated.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Crunching Numbers to Combat Cancer
UCSF receives $5 million to integrate data from cancer research models.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Virus In Cattle Linked To Human Breast Cancer
A new study by UC Berkeley researchers establishes for the first time a link between infection with the bovine leukemia virus and human breast cancer.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Ultrafast DNA Diagnostics
New technology developed by UC Berkeley bioengineers promises to make a workhorse lab tool cheaper, more portable and many times faster by accelerating the heating and cooling of genetic samples with the switch of a light.
Monday, August 03, 2015
Scientists Create CRISPR/Cas9 Knock-In Mutations in Human T Cells
In a project spearheaded by investigators at UC San Francisco, scientists have devised a new strategy to precisely modify human T cells using the genome-editing system known as CRISPR/Cas9.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Simple Technology Makes CRISPR Gene Editing Cheaper
University of California, Berkeley, researchers have discovered a much cheaper and easier way to target a hot new gene editing tool, CRISPR-Cas9, to cut or label DNA.
Friday, July 24, 2015
Printed "Smart Cap" Detects Spoiled Food
It might not be long before consumers can just hit “print” to create an electronic circuit or wireless sensor in the comfort of their homes.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Growing Spinal Disc Tissue
Scientists develop new method for growing spinal disc tissue in the lab for combating chronic back pain.
Friday, July 03, 2015
Delivering Drugs to the Right Place
Thomas Weimbs has developed a targeted drug delivery method that could potentially slow the progression of polycystic kidney disease.
Monday, June 29, 2015
The Deep Carbon Cycle
Over billions of years, the total carbon content of the outer part of the Earth—in its upper mantle, crust, oceans and atmospheres—has gradually increased, scientists report.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Designing New Pain Relief Drugs
Researchers have identified the molecular interactions that allow capsaicin to activate the body’s primary receptor for sensing heat and pain, paving the way for the design of more selective and effective drugs to relieve pain.
Thursday, June 11, 2015
Engineers Crack DNA Code of Autoimmune Disorders
Researchers have identified an unexpectedly general set of rules that determine which molecules can cause the immune system to become vulnerable to the autoimmune disorders lupus and psoriasis.
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Genetic Markers for Detecting and Treating Ovarian Cancer
Custom bioinformatics algorithm identifies human mRNAs that distinguish ovarian cancer cells from normal cells and provide new therapeutic targets
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Scientific News
Education and Expense: The Barriers to Mass Spectrometry in Clinical Laboratories?
Here we examine the perceived barriers to mass spec in clinical laboratories and explore the possible drivers behind the recent shift in uptake of the technology in clinical settings.
Removing 62 Barriers to Pig–to–Human Organ Transplant in One Fell Swoop
The largest number of simultaneous gene edits ever accomplished in the genome could help bridge the gap between organ transplant scarcity and the countless patients who need them.
Biomarker Predicting Transplant Complications May be Key to Treating Them
A protein that can be used to predict if a stem cell transplant patient will suffer severe complications may also be the key to preventing those complications, an international research team based at the Indiana University School of Medicine reported Wednesday.
Potential New Diagnosis and Therapy for Breast Cancer
Scientists at the University of York, using clinical specimens from charity Breast Cancer Now’s Tissue Bank, have conducted new research into a specific sodium channel that indicates the presence of cancer cells and affects tumour growth rates.
First Results Describing Sick Sea Star Immune Response
Though millions of sea stars along the West Coast have perished in the past several years from an apparent wasting disease, scientists still don’t know why.
New Protein Cleanup Factors Found to Control Bacterial Growth
UMass Amherst researchers characterize previously mysterious proteolysis factors.
UC San Diego Team Up with Illumina to Speed-Read Your Microbiome
Data analysis app accelerates studies aimed at using microbes to predict, diagnose and treat human diseases.
Proteins with ALS, Cancer Role Do Not Assume a Regular Shape
Our cells contain proteins, essential to functions like protein creation and DNA repair but also involved in forms of ALS and cancer, that never take a characteristic shape, a new study shows.
Paving the Way for Diamonds to Trace Early Cancers
Researchers from the University of Sydney reveal how nanoscale 'diamonds' can light up early-stage cancers in MRI scans.
Researchers Develop Classification Model for Cancers Caused by KRAS
Most frequently mutated cancer gene help oncologists choose more effective cancer therapies.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,700+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
3,800+ scientific videos