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Intermountain launches massive DNA mapping project

File: Genome sequence map infographic from Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY — Intermountain Healthcare in Utah is launching a massive genomics project to collect 500,000 DNA samples over the next five years. The goal: mapping DNA in hopes of stopping disease.

A personal reason for DNA mapping

Floyd Hatch lost two of his siblings to heart disease at a young age. He’s hoping what the mapping project learns from his family and its genetic cardiovascular disorder will lead to innovations and treatment.

“I will always wonder, and I think we will be able to look at this and understand better what took my brother and my sister. Is there a relationship between that and three generations that are still living?” Hatch said.

Intermountain is partnering with deCODE Genetics in Iceland to map the genome. By doing so, researchers hope it leads to breakthroughs in the treatment of diabetes, breast cancer, colon cancer and many other diseases.

How it works

Dr. Lincoln Nadauld, the executive director of Intermountain Precision Genomics, said the HerediGene: Population Study project is truly groundbreaking.

“This project will allow us to begin predicting disease and preventing disease,” Nadauld said. “No longer do we have to wait for these young members of our community showing up with advanced disease before we take action.”

Hatch was one of the first to volunteer.

“I think that can happen to anyone. I think that’s something we need to know and understand,” Hatch said. “And this research will just be so great.”

Who is eligible?

Anyone in Utah can enroll, starting today, by walking into a hospital or clinic and volunteering. They may also be asked if they’d like to volunteer when giving blood for another reason. The DNA will be kept anonymous, but volunteers can opt to be notified if they have a marker for disease in their blood and then meet with genetic counselors if they choose.

Intermountain officials say the project is the largest and most comprehensive DNA mapping effort ever done in the United States from a single population, which is primarily Intermountain’s patients throughout Utah and Idaho.