National research program aims to study DNA of one million people

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The National Institutes of Health is ready to launch a new research program that will involve studying the DNA of one million people. It is being called the All of Us Research Program.

The goal of the initiative is to advance precision medicine, according to the program's website. The site defines precision medicine as healthcare based on an individual.

The health care takes into account where someone lives, what they do, and their family history.

Those who participate in the research program will be asked to share their own health data which will include health surveys and electronic health records.

The program website states that participants may also be asked to share physical measurements as well as blood and urine samples.

The site insists that the data of those participating in the study will be protected.

Researchers will study the data, and hope that finding patterns in the data could lead to medical breakthroughs. Participants will be able to get information about the data they shared.

Kelly Warsinske, a genetic counselor at the Levine Cancer Institute in Charlotte, spoke about the program in an interview with WBTV Friday.

"Right now a lot of our gene testing is focused on single genes that we can look for and looking for changes in just one or two jeans specifically," explained Warsinske. "The idea of the study is to be able to look at multiple aspects of people's DNA to make things even more personalized and in order to do that we need more people so we have a good pool of people to draw from."

While Warsinske thinks the study is a good idea, she noted that some people may not want to share their personal information. It's a situation she said she encounters at the Levine Cancer Institute.

"Before we do gene testing with anyone here, we're always having them meet with us first and there are some people that end up choosing not to do this because they're not sure if it's information they want to know," Warsinske said.

The genetic cousnelor said it is important for members of the public to know and understand what they are signing up for. She said the DNA collected by the program probably won't be immediately useful.

"This isn't going to have all the answers and if they do give you data from this, your doctors may not be able to give you answers now, but it might also be something that has answers in the future," said Warsinske.

South Charlotte mother Beth Harrelson may be one person who submits her DNA for the study. Harrelson battled cancer in 2015 and underwent a bi-lateral mastectomy.

"It takes courage and stamina to go through it, but it's a very scary time," said Harrelson.

She now runs the Carolina Breast Friend's Pink House, a charity that provides support to women who fought the same disease Beth won. She hadn't heard about the research program until WBTV contacted her Friday.

"I think the more we know and the earlier we know, the better we can help people and help make them healthy," said Harrelson.

The program launches on Sunday, May 6. To learn more about the program and how you can participate, visit the All Of Us website.

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