Iceland may have garnered fame as the first home of population genomics, but oddly enough, the US is gaining ground. Americans clearly are not the most homogeneous group in the world, but a large healthcare center in Wisconsin is betting that the state’s population is stable enough to support a major US genotyping effort. In July, the Marshfield Clinic, the administrator for what it calls its Personalized Medicine Research Project, logged its 10,000th DNA donor.
Cathy McCarty, the director of the Personalized Medicine Research Center, says Wisconsin presents a model system for discovering genetic markers for diseases because — unlike much of the rest of the country — people tend not to move around as much. “These folks stay in Wisconsin forever,” says McCarty.
The nonprofit Marshfield Clinic’s healthcare clout — with 40 branches, it serves about 60 percent of the state — also makes it easier to keep track of the participants in the study, who provide basic physical and behavioral data in addition to a blood sample and a signed informed consent form. The clinic’s centers all rely on a central electronic record-keeping center, a system that should make matching a phenotype with patients’ mutations much easier, McCarty adds, since all the participants are recruited from the Marshfield Clinic system.
The Marshfield Clinic’s population genomics study may not be the world’s largest — the UK’s Biobank is just starting to collect data from what it hopes will be the first of 500,000 donors — but McCarty says its almost $4 million budget will allow the clinic to gather DNA from 20,000 patients by the end of 2003. Data collected in other studies seem to be paying dividends. McCarty and her colleagues have already begun studying how genotyping can be used to predict the proper dose of Coumadin, a blood thinner for patients with heart disease. “We’re really hoping to go from bench to bedside, improving people’s health,” she says. “It really is exciting.”
— John S. MacNeil