The McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University has received a $10 million U.S. government grant to map the DNA of patients from a number of ethnic groups who had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis, and other lung disorders.
The goal is to identify the roots and risks of the disorders in a broader segment of the American population.
“Most other large genome sequencing projects have focused on Europeans and Caucasians,” Susan K. Dutcher, principal investigator of the project, said in a press release. “With this program, we are including many people with other racial and ethnic backgrounds. Increasing the diversity of the groups being sequenced is important in understanding how genetic variations influence disease risk.”
Researchers use blood, saliva or other samples to decode a person’s genetic material. Comparing DNA sequencing across ethnic groups will help scientists identify alterations that could increase or decrease a person’s risk of developing a disease.
The grant to the St. Louis-based university came from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. It is part of the institute’s TOPMed initiative, which is sequencing and analyzing the genetic material of patients participating in a number of large clinical trials.
A key aim of the effort is to understand the genetics underlying heart, lung, blood and sleep disorders, such as high blood pressure, obesity, sleep apnea, stroke, asthma, COPD, hemophilia, sickle cell disease and pulmonary embolism.
The clinical trials that the TOPMed program is covering were chosen to increase genetic information on underrepresented groups. The idea is to better represent the diversity of the American population in national genetics databases.
“It’s also important that the total number of patients in the project is huge,” Dutcher said. “Early phases of TOPMed have already sequenced the genomes of 85,000 people. This year, for Washington University’s portion of the project, we’re sequencing the genomes of about 6,500 patients with lung diseases, primarily COPD and interstitial pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive scarring of lung tissue with variable causes, including autoimmunity.”