Researchers are hoping to recruit 100,000 Pakistanis and Bangladeshis living in East London in one of the first large, long-term studies to explore links between genetics and health in a poor ethnic community. The study, launched today, is also one of the biggest efforts yet to search for rare individuals who are healthy despite the absence of a specific gene.
East London is home to many poor immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh, and their community suffers high rates of illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. The East London Genes & Health study will focus on two groups that are left out of most genetic studies, which largely tap those of northern European ancestry. “It’s a big opportunity to improve people’s health and health in East London,” said study co-leader David van Heel of Queen Mary University of London, which announced the study today. Funding of £4 million is coming from the Wellcome Trust and the United Kingdom’s Medical Research Council.
Researchers also hope to gather information on healthy people who have mutations in both copies of a gene that make it nonfunctional. Such rare individuals could shed light on “what happens when parts of the genetic material are not working,” says study co-leader Richard Trembath. If the missing gene somehow protects against disease, then a drug that targets that gene could treat illness without causing side effects. An example is PCSK9, a gene found to be missing in a “perfectly healthy” woman in Texas that has led to a new class of cholesterol-lowering drugs, van Heel notes.