A biobank with juggernaut proportions will soon be established as part of U.S health care provider Kaiser Permanente's project: Kaiser Permanente Research Program on Genes, Environment and Health.
The company is seeking to enlist around half a million volunteers from its adult members, to participate in its research.
Kaiser Permanente is planning to collect medical records, family histories and genetic material from the diverse population it is enlisting from Northern California.
The project is seeking to find out how genes, lifestyles and environmental factors interplay to cause common diseases like cancer, diabetes and asthma .In this way it seeks to understand the causes of diseases and better ways of treatment.
This is somewhat on the lines of the Framingham project that conducted a massive decades-long research that led to the identification of potential heart risk factors, which are used today by thousands of cardiologists.
As part of the second phase of the project, workers will collect genetic material by way of cheek swabs and blood samples from the enlisters.
This move may well make Kaiser Permanente the largest repository of genetic material.
Yet as fears that information garnered this way may be used against the volunteers in claiming jobs or health insurance, are sounded, Kaiser is quick to assure its members that such private records will be maintained in all confidentiality and kept separately from more accessible medical records.
Other such biobanks exist and are increasingly being developed in the United States and outside, as scientists attempt to use the information from the recent decoding of the human genome to elicit how genes and the environment contribute to disease.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health last year launched a genes and environment project that could study as many as 1,000 people, and biotechnology company deCODE Genetics has compiled a database containing the genetic makeup and medical history of more than 100,000 citizens of Iceland.
Kaiser's goal of enrolling up to 500,000 of its members is rivaled in ambition only by the government-backed UK Biobank, which was launched last year and also intends to survey and collect genetic material from a similar number of British residents.
Says former U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief Dr. David Kessler, now dean of the University of California-San Francisco medical school: What this will do is make personalized medicine a reality. It is a vitally important effort to improve the health of people everywhere.