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Genetic Data from Thousands of Individuals Added to Long-term Aging Study

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institute on Aging has added genetic data from thousands of consenting individuals to a large-scale, long-term national study of older Americans, enabling researchers to analyze medical, sociological, and genetic information as they study age-related issues.

The National Institutes of Health said on Tuesday that it has posted the data from around 13,000 individuals who provided samples for the Health and Retirement Study to its dbGAP online database.

The HRS is a 20-year survey covering the health, economic, and social status of older Americans conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan. It also serves as a database for studies of older people.

The new genetic data includes 2.5 million markers from each participant that will be made available to qualified researchers who are studying aging and retirement in the Baby Boom generation.

Using the genome-wide association study data with longitudinal information will enable researchers to conduct studies of survivorship, longevity, genetic determinants of aging, markers of disease traits, and others, NIH said.

"The addition of genetic data provides a major new dimension for the study and is expected to result in much deeper insights into how we age," NIA Director Richard Hodes said in a statement. "With detailed information on genetic background, combined with the wealth of data on important aspects of the lives of older people, researchers will be better able to describe the spectrum of behavioral and environmental risk factors for disease and disability as well as those that may protect our health."

The HRS launched in 1992 and currently follows more than 35,000 people over the age of 50, from pre-retirement to advanced age, and it incorporates a wide range of survey and sample information.

"Adding genetic data to this longitudinal study has the potential to revolutionize behavioral and social research," said Richard Suzman, director of NIA's Division of Behavioral and Social Research and a co-founder of the study. "The new genetics information will be the largest nationally representative sample in NIH's genetic database."

The study is funded by the NIA, which awarded the University of Michigan $82 million in 2011 to fund six years of research, and by the Social Security Administration, which provided $4.2 million for the study last year.

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