Huge East London genome project to track protective genes

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Researchers are setting out for a huge genome project in East London dubbed East London Genes and Health through which they intend to not only link genes with health records in a bid to study disease and treatments but also to find out resilient genes that are keeping some residents from garnering heart diseases, diabetes and cancer.

Scientists are planning to sequence the genes of 100,000 south Asian people in East London – a part of the city which is dominated by poor immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh many of whom are suffering from high rates of illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. But within this population, scientists believe, are people who are quite healthy and protected against these disorders not because they are taking preventive measures, but because there are genes that provide them with extreme resilience to such diseases.

One of the main reasons why researchers are targeting this particular community is because relatively high levels of cousin marriage in these groups. Researchers believe that having parents who are related makes it more likely that the offspring will carry two copies of a rare protective gene, rather than one, making the effects more pronounced.

“It’s a big opportunity to improve people’s health and health in East London,” said study co-leader David van Heel of Queen Mary University of London.

Volunteers, aged 16 and above, will be asked to donate a small saliva (spit) sample and share their GP and hospital medical records in strict confidence with the study team. The volunteers can be healthy or ill at the time of their signing up and should be of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin.

Volunteers will further be asked to give their consent to be contacted again over the course of two decades and some may be invited to participate in further health research studies on the basis of data gathered from their samples, health records and information provided.

“This is not about telling people who to marry,” added van Heel. “It’s about improving the health of the future generation.”

Though the volunteers won’t be receiving any direct benefits from the study, they will be able to make a difference to the health future generations and medical care as a whole.