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20,000 Volunteers Sought for Genes-and-Environment Registry

By Kate Ruder

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Scientists are about to start collecting DNA from 20,000 volunteers in North Carolina as part of a registry researchers can use to investigate interactions between genes and the environment in human disease.

For example, researchers studying genes involved in repairing damaged DNA could use the collection to search for gene variants that predispose individuals to skin cancer caused by sun exposure.

Researchers will be able to screen the collection of DNA for genetic variations in genes that they suspect may be associated with disease. They could then contact the people to see if they would take part in a study.

Called the Environmental Polymorphism Registry, it will include DNA samples and the names and addresses of roughly 20,000 patients at University of North Carolina medical clinics that agree to take part in the registry. Participants must be over 18 years of age.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are collaborating on the project. The collection is smaller in scope than biobanks in the United Kingdom and Iceland.

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Some of the first studies using the registry could come from single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, uncovered during the Environmental Genome Project, which is also funded by the NIEHS.

In a pilot study that included 483 people, about 80 percent of patients invited to take part in the project agreed. Perry Blackshear, who is director of clinical research at the NIEHS, said he was surprised and pleased by the high level of participation.

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