Environmental gene bank project unveiled

16 May 2005

In a recent press release, the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) announced a collaborative venture with the University of North Carolina (UNC) to create a registry of 20,00 patients in order to study the relationship between environmental exposures, genetic susceptibility, and human disease. The new Environmental Polymorphism Registry will store DNA samples for use in the study of environmentally sensitive genes by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (including the NIEHS), UNC and collaborators. A pilot study of 600 patients at UNC clinics, 80% of whom agreed to donate DNA for storage for a period of 25 years, forms the basis of the registry, which will now be expanded.

The registry is unusual in that although samples will be coded to protect the identity of donors, patient identifiers will be maintained so that participants can be contacted in the future for voluntary provision of additional information or participation in follow-up studies. It is hoped that these studies will provide valuable new insights into ecogenetics (the interaction between genes and the environment) by allowing the identification of genetic polymorphisms in environmentally sensitive genes and possible correlations with environmental exposures and health outcomes. Dr Perry Blackshear, NIEHS director of clinical research commented: "The data collected from these studies may be used to define environmental risk factors and develop preventative strategies to reduce the incidence of disease".

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