“This represents another important landmark for both the program and for Personalis,” said John West, Chief Executive Officer, Personalis, in a news release. “We congratulate the VA MVP for reaching this important milestone.
“We strongly believe that the research projects being performed today will enable precision medicine in healthcare systems in the future across a wide range of disease areas,” he added. This is a positive development for clinical laboratories, as personalized medicine services require a lab to sequence and interpret the patient’s DNA.
Personalis was contracted with the US federal government to perform genetic research in 2012 and has delivered 50,000 genomes to the VA MVP during the past twelve months.
The Personalis and VA MVP researchers seek to gain a better understanding of how genetic variants affect health. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US, the VA was enrolling veterans in the Million Veterans Program at 63 VA medical centers across the country. There are currently about 830,000 veterans enrolled in the venture and the VA is expecting two million veterans to eventually sign up for the sequencing project.
“As a global leader in genomic sequencing and comprehensive analytics services, Personalis is uniquely suited to lead these population-scale efforts and we are currently in the process of expanding our business operations internationally,” West added.
According to the press release, “the VA MVP provides researchers with a rich resource of genetic, health, lifestyle, and military-exposure data collected from questionnaires, medical records, and genetic analyses. By combining this information into a single database, the VA MVP promises to advance knowledge about the complex links between genes and health.”
NIH All of Us Research Program Supports Precision Medicine Goals Another genetic research project being conducted by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the All of Us Research Program. Using donated personal health information from thousands of participants, the NIH researchers seek to “learn how our biology, lifestyle, and environment affect health,” according to the program’s website.
The All of Us Research Program intends to have at least one million US participants take part in the research. The researchers hope to help scientists discover new knowledge regarding how biological, environmental, and behavioral factors influence health, and to learn to tailor healthcare to patients’ specific medical needs, a key component of precision medicine.
Participants in the project share personal information via a variety of methods, including surveys, electronic health records, and biological samples.
A Better Sampling of Under-Represented Communities
Since opening enrollment in 2018, more than 270,000 people have contributed blood, urine, and saliva samples to the All of Us Research Program. More than 80% of the participants come from communities that are traditionally under-represented in biomedical research.
“We need programs like All of Us to build diverse datasets so that research findings ultimately benefit everyone,” said Brad Ozenberger, PhD, Genomics Program Director, All of Us, in the NIH news release. “Too many groups have been left out of research in the past, so much of what we know about genomics is based mainly on people of European ancestry. And often, genomic data are explored without critical context like environment, economics, and other social determinants of health. We’re trying to help change that, enabling the entire research community to help fill in these knowledge gaps.”
The All of Us Research Project’s analysis of the collected data includes both whole-genome sequencing (WGS) and genotyping and is taking a phased approach in returning genetic data to participants.
Participants initially receive data about their genetic ancestry and traits. That is followed later by health-related results, such as how their genetic variants may increase the risk of certain diseases and how their DNA may affect their reaction to drug therapies.
Genetic researchers hope programs like these will lead to improved in vitro diagnostics and drug therapies. Genetic sequencing also may lead to new diagnostic and therapeutic biomarkers for clinical laboratories.
UK study shows how LDTs may one day enable physicians to identify patients genetically predisposed to chronic disease and prescribe lifestyle changes before medical treatment becomes necessary
Could genetic predisposition lead to clinical laboratory-developed tests (LDTs) that enable physicians to assess patients’ risk for specific diseases years ahead of onset of symptoms? Could these LDTs inform treatment/lifestyle changes to help reduce the chance of contracting the disease?
A UK study into the genetics of one million people with high blood pressure reveals such tests could one day exist.
They also confirmed 274 loci (gene locations) and replicated 92 loci for the first time.
“This is the most major advance in blood pressure genetics to date. We now know that there are over 1,000 genetic signals which influence our blood pressure. This provides us with many new insights into how our bodies regulate blood pressure and has revealed several new opportunities for future drug development,” said Mark Caulfield, MD,
The researchers believe “this means almost a third of the estimated heritability for blood pressure is now explained,” the news release noted.
Clinical Laboratories May Eventually Get a Genetic Test Panel for Hypertension
Of course, more research is needed. But the study suggests a genetic test panel for hypertension may be in the future for anatomic pathologists and medical laboratories. Physicians might one day be able to determine their patients’ risks for high blood pressure years in advance and advise treatment and lifestyle changes to avert medical problems.
By involving more than one million people, the study also demonstrates how ever-growing pools of data will be used in research to develop new diagnostic assays.
The video above summarizes research led by Queen Mary University of London and Imperial College London, which found over 500 new gene regions that influence people’s blood pressure, in the largest global genetic study of blood pressure to date. Click here to view the video. (Photo and caption copyright: Queen Mary University of London.)
Genetics Influence Blood Pressure More Than Previously Thought
In addition to identifying hundreds of new genetic regions influencing blood pressure, the researchers compared people with the highest genetic risk of high blood pressure to those in the low risk group. Based on this comparison, the researchers determined that all genetic variants were associated with:
“having around a 13 mm Hg higher blood pressure;
“having 3.34 times the odds for increased risk of hypertension; and,
“1.52 times the odds for increased risk of poor cardiovascular outcomes.”
“We identify 535 novel blood pressure loci that not only offer new biological insights into blood pressure regulation, but also highlight shared genetic architecture between blood pressure and lifestyle exposures. Our findings identify new biological pathways for blood pressure regulation with potential for improved cardiovascular disease prevention in the future,” the researchers wrote in Nature Genetics.
Other Findings Link Known Genes and Drugs to Hypertension
The UK researchers also revealed the Apolipoprotein E (ApoE) gene’s relation to hypertension. This gene has been associated with both Alzheimer’s and coronary artery diseases, noted LabRoots. The study also found that Canagliflozin, a drug used in type 2 diabetes treatment, could be repurposed to also address hypertension.
“Identifying genetic signals will increasingly help us to split patients into groups based on their risk of disease,” Paul Elliott, PhD, Professor, Imperial College London Faculty of Medicine, School of Public Health, and co-lead author, stated in the news release. “By identifying those patients who have the greatest underlying risk, we may be able to help them to change lifestyle factors which make them more likely to develop disease, as well as enabling doctors to provide them with targeted treatments earlier.”
Working to Advance Precision Medicine
The study shares new and important information about how genetics may influence blood pressure. By acquiring data from more than one million people, the UK researchers also may be setting a new expectation for research about diagnostic tests that could become part of the test menu at clinical laboratories throughout the world. The work could help physicians and patients understand risk of high blood pressure and how precision medicine and lifestyle changes can possibly work to prevent heart attacks and strokes among people worldwide.
It is possible for clinical laboratory managers to access an article in the journal Nature that describes the work of the 1000 Genomes Project during this four-year pilot phase. The article is available on the Nature website as a PDF download.