A Milestone at Kaiser Permanente's "Biobank"

Aug 31, 2009, 5:22 AM, Posted by RWJF Blog Team

The Kaiser Permanente Research Program on Genes, Environment and Health (RPGEH)has reached a major milestone in its development of the United States’ largest repository of genetic, environmental and health data. As of August 2009, the Kaiser “biobank” holds more than 100,000 DNA samples, meaning it has the capacity to begin to enable researchers to reveal the environmental and genetic factors behind many deadly diseases, and to support research that could lead to better treatments.
In December 2008, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, through its Pioneer Portfolio, awarded Kaiser’s Northern California Division of Research $8.6 million to help gather, store and protect the biobank’s first 200,000 DNA samples, and to build a secure database with relevant health and environmental information. RWJF’s and Kaiser’s shared goal is to, by 2012, expand this population-based database to 500,000 samples, a volume that would present enough statistical power to identify even subtle effects of environmental and genetic factors in less common health conditions, such as mental health disorders or autoimmune diseases, and make the RPGEH one of the largest population-based biobanks in the world. 

The RPGEH, directed by Catherine Schaefer, Ph.D., and Neil J. Risch, Ph.D., and based in Kaiser’s 3.3-million-member medical care plan in Northern California, is one of the first biobanks to include environmental and genetic information collected from a broad array of populations. As soon as fall 2009, the RPGEH will be used for a study that will investigate genetic and nongenetic factors that put African-American men at higher risk for prostate cancer. It will also be used for a large study of bipolar disorder, a mental illness that can increase risk of suicide.
This groundbreaking effort will ultimately provide researchers access to DNA from people of diverse ethnicities, with and without health problems, in numbers that provide the statistical significance to draw evidence-based conclusions from this complex information. Scientists will have a powerful new resource to discover which genes and environmental factors, and lifestyles and habits, are linked to specific diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, asthma, mental health disorders, and others – increasing our medical system’s ability to not only deliver the best possible treatments, but to help people from all backgrounds avoid getting sick in the first place. Learn more at www.dor.kaiser.org/external/rpgeh.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.