Expanded genomic dataset includes a wider racial diversity which may lead to improved diagnostics and clinical laboratory tests
Human genomic research has taken another important step forward. The National Institutes of Health’s All of Us research program has reached a milestone of 250,000 collected whole genome sequences. This accomplishment could escalate research and development of new diagnostics and therapeutic biomarkers for clinical laboratory tests and prescription drugs.
The NIH’s All of Us program “has significantly expanded its data to now include nearly a quarter million whole genome sequences for broad research use. About 45% of the data was donated by people who self-identify with a racial or ethnic group that has been historically underrepresented in medical research,” the news release noted.
“For years, the lack of diversity in genomic datasets has limited our understanding of human health,” said Andrea Ramirez, MD, Chief Data Officer, All of Us Research Program, in the news release. Clinical laboratories performing genetic testing may look forward to new biomarkers and diagnostics due to the NIH’s newly expanded gene sequencing data set. (Photo copyright: Vanderbilt University.)
Diverse Genomic Data is NIH’s Goal
NIH launched the All of Us genomic sequencing program in 2018. Its aim is to involve more than one million people from across the country and reflect national diversity in its database.
So far, the program has grown to include 413,450 individuals, with 45% of participants self-identifying “with a racial or ethnic group that has been historically under-represented in medical research,” NIH said.
“By engaging participants from diverse backgrounds and sharing a more complete picture of their lives—through genomic, lifestyle, clinical, and social environmental data—All of Us enables researchers to begin to better pinpoint the drivers of disease,” said Andrea Ramirez, MD, Chief Data Officer of the All of Us research program, in the news release.
More than 5,000 researchers are currently registered to use NIH’s All of Us genomic database. The vast resource contains the following data:
245,350 whole genome sequences, which includes “variation at more than one billion locations, about one-third of the entire human genome.”
1,000 long-read genome sequences to enable “a more complete understanding of the human genome.”
“Through a partnership with participants, researchers, and diverse communities across the country, we are seeing incredible progress towards powering scientific discoveries that can lead to a healthier future for all of us,” said Josh Denny, MD, Chief Executive Officer, All of Us Research Program, in the news release.
“[Researchers] can get access to the tools and the data they need to conduct a project with our resources in as little as two hours once their institutional data use agreement is signed,” said Fornessa Randal, Executive Director, Center for Asian Health Equity, University of Chicago, in a YouTube video about Researcher Workbench.
“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.