BioBank seeks thousands of minority participants for study

By Deborah Wormser / September 2011

The BioBank at UT Southwestern – the largest and most ambitious study of its kind in the Dallas-Fort Worth area – is looking for thousands of men and women to help researchers explore genetic risk factors for heart disease in a variety of ethnic groups.

BioBank investigators still need approximately 20,000 participants, equally divided between African-Americans and Hispanics, said Dr. Jonathan Cohen, Professor of Internal Medicine and one of the study’s primary investigators.

Other investigators include Dr. Helen H. Hobbs, Director of the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development, and Dr. Scott Grundy, Director of the Center for Human Nutrition.

While earlier studies of the role of genes in human disease tended to focus on individuals of European descent, this one seeks equal numbers from each group because many genetic variations linked to human disease are found only in other ethnic and racial groups, he said.

“If you only study one group, you’ll miss things,” said Dr. Cohen, who also participated in the Dallas Heart Study of 1,831 African-Americans in the Dallas area. That study found several uncommon genetic variations including a mutation found in a small percentage of African-Americans and virtually nowhere else that protects against heart disease by significantly reducing cholesterol levels.

That discovery showed that a modest lifelong reduction in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels provides a remarkable level of protection against heart disease and provided a new target for therapy that is being pursued by major drug companies.

In August the project passed a significant milestone by collecting 10,000 samples, mostly from Caucasians, through a partnership with the Cooper Institute in North Dallas.

Investigators are still trying to reach the 10,000-person goal in the African-American and Hispanic communities, and are looking for volunteers who are at least 18 years old who live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Participants will be compensated for their time and will also receive a free report of their blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Anyone interested in participating can call 214-648-7663 or email thebiobank@utsouthwestern.edu for more details.

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