Most health insurers are wary of genetics because, in most cases, it’s not yet clear how a particular genetic variation influences an individual’s health, or whether it should affect their care.
Now Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest nonprofit health plan, has announced that it’s finished the first phase of a massive project to compile genetic, medical, and environmental information for 100,000 of its members. Researchers also analyzed the length of participants’ telomeres—a molecule structure at the tip of the chromosome that has been linked to aging. This represents the largest telomere study to date.
The resulting data, gathered in collaboration with the University of California, San Francisco, will soon be available to outside researchers who study how different genetic and environmental factors influence disease. It took about 15 months for the team to collect and analyze the genomes of 100,000 people ranging in age from 18 to 107. The team used gene microarrays—small chips designed to quickly detect hundreds of thousands of genetic variations across the genome.