Population database aids research

By By Andrew Cone and By Andrew Cone

By Andrew Cone

Clinical researchers gathered on Wednesday to discuss the role genetics plays in the fight against cancer and other genetic diseases. A connection can be studied, thanks to Utah’s valuable genetic records, they said.

The Utah Population Database, which is administered by the U and managed by the Huntsman Cancer Institute, has been an important tool for recognizing genetic patterns and identifying the genes that have caused deadly diseases for more than 30 years. The database includes information on 6.4 million people and contains 11 million documents that are linked together so they can be easily cross-referenced.

Geraldine Mineau, director of the Pedigree and Population Resource, which supports the database, said Utah has an unusual research infrastructure that is conducive to different types of research.

“We have large families in a database that contains genealogy records,” Mineau said. “Big families are very good for genetic research.”

During the meeting, Mineau dispelled what she said is a common misconception about Utah’s population.

“Many people think it’s an inbred population, but it’s not,” she said. “It’s pretty much like the national average, and the reason for that is that the migrants that came to Europe came from lots of different places, so it wasn’t like they were just one group.”

The database benefits from the type of population Utah has, said Richard Kerber, a senior scientist with the resource group.

“There are things that can be done in Utah that are difficult or impossible to do anywhere else because of the database,” Kerber said. “What makes this database unique is that we have big families with a higher socioeconomic status and high levels of education.”

Deb Neklason, a research assistant professor at the institute, credits the database for a recent research milestone involving colon cancer.

“We started off looking at a large Utah family and traced the cancerous gene to a couple that moved here from England in the early 1600s,” she said.

Neklason said that by identifying the founder of that gene, it is possible to determine if certain families have a genetic predisposition to colon cancer.

“If we can find the gene that’s responsible, it’s possible to trace these colon cancer victims to a common ancestor,” Neklason said. “If you know that you are susceptible by having a genetic predisposition, the disease can be prevented by removing the precancerous tissue.”

[email protected]tah.edu

Teresa Getten

Geraldine Mineau, Director of the Pedigree and Population Resource, spoke about myths of Utah’s population to a group of researchers.