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Biobank Enables Fine-Scale Population Analysis in Los Angeles

Within the UCLA ATLAS Community Health Initiative, researchers have identified more than 375 population clusters based on shared genetic ancestry and, among those clusters, found differing rates of disease diagnosis, genetic disorders, and healthcare utilization. The biobank includes genetic and electronic medical record data on 35,968 individuals, which researchers in Nature Medicine used to study fine-scale populations in Los Angeles, as, they note, someone's disease risk is shaped by the genetic and environmental factors affecting the populations to which they belong. Using identity-by-descent analyses, the team identified 376 patient clusters, including populations that have been overlooked in biomedical research. The researchers further correlated these clusters with different phenotypes and genetic variants, finding, for instance, that known pathogenic genetic variants are found at higher rates within Chinese, Iranian Jewish, Armenian, and African-American clusters and might be missed by carrier screening guidelines. "The combination of your genetic risk and your environmental risk are the two most important things in determining whether you get a disease. It's best for your doctor to have the best understanding of exactly what populations you might be coming from in order to assess things like disease risk or the need for genetic testing," first author Christa Caggiano, a PhD student at UCLA Health, says in a statement.