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New Initiative in Alabama will help scientist understand genetic diseases

By Sam Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

People from around Alabama will now have the opportunity to participate in a new program that will help scientist understand the human genome better.

After working through a pilot project in May, the Alabama Genomic Health Initiative has officially began recruiting people from around Alabama to test their genomes.

The Initiative came from a partnership between the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. It will focus on a state-wide effort to “harness the power of genomic analysis to identify those at high risk for genetic disease.”

Genomic analysis is used by researchers to better understand genetic diseases.

“By comparing the human genome with the genomes of different organisms, researchers can better understand the structure and function of human genes and thereby develop new strategies in the battle against human disease,” an official release from the National Human Genome Research Institute said.

The initiative is one of the first in the nation according to a release from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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Dr. Greg Barsh, co-director of the Alabama Genomic Health Initiative, said the project could lead to new treatments for Alabamians.

“Researchers working on finding cures to conditions like diabetes, heart disease, epilepsy and cancer will be able to utilize knowledge from these data to identify genetic factors that predispose people to these diseases as well as rare disorders—all with the ultimate goal of developing new approaches to prevention, diagnosis and treatment,” Barsh said.

The program is looking for 2,000 participants for the next year from all counties in Alabama to test their genomes. They are looking for 10,000 participants over the next five years.

Matt Might, co-director of the AGHI, said protecting the privacy of the participants is a priority for the program.

“In addition to rigorous systems to ensure privacy, the AGHI bioethics team — with ethicists from HudsonAlpha, Tuskegee University and UAB — will review all plans and procedures to ensure that appropriate safeguards and protections are in place,” Might said.

Participants can go to the Kirkland Clinic and Medical Towers in Birmingham. There they will be asked to give blood so scientist can extract the DNA. The process is free of charge to all the participants.


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