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Kaiser Permanente to Study Genetic Causes of Diseases

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — A unit of Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s biggest managed-care company, plans to create a large repository of genetic material to examine the genetic and environmental factors affecting disease and patient response to medications, the company announced earlier this month.
The unit, the Northern California Division of Research, aims to “discover which genes and environmental factors … are linked to specific diseases,” such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s disease, and asthma, Kaiser Permanente said in a Feb. 14 statement.
“The research program will also include studies of genetic and non-genetic factors that affect how people respond to specific medications, including the occurrence of side effects,” according to Kaiser’s description of the project, called the Research Program on Genes, Environment and Health.
Kaiser said it plans to build a large database of biological samples, drawing on its base of 2 million members in the Northern California region. Kaiser has mailed to its members a survey that asks about their medical and family history, and lifestyle. After reviewing the survey results, Kaiser researchers will ask certain members to provide a sample of blood or saliva for genetic information.
Researchers hope to enlist at least 500,000 members for the study. Participation in the RPGEH study is voluntary. All participants will be anonymized.
“By combining the genetic, health, and survey information from hundreds of thousands of members into databases, researchers hope to gain a deeper understanding of what combinations of genes and environmental factors influence the risk of complex diseases,” the organization said in the release.
“Because the population we hope to include in this program is so large and diverse, the research can be generalized,” explained Cathy Schaefer, RPGEH director.

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