South Asian cousin marriages, providing perfect subjects for UK Genome project

Published March 13, 2015
Scientists expect to identify a benchmark for genetic ‘normality’ in South Asian populations, along with explanations as to why they are prone to certain health problems ─ Reuters/File
Scientists expect to identify a benchmark for genetic ‘normality’ in South Asian populations, along with explanations as to why they are prone to certain health problems ─ Reuters/File

LONDON: Scientists are studying Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in East London as part of the East London Genes and Health project. According to a report by The Guardian, the study attempts to identify beneficial genes protecting against various health conditions including heart disease and cancer.

Why conduct research of this sort?

Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in London are reported to have the highest rates of poor health in the UK, the Guardian report cited. They are five times more likely than the average Britisher to develop Type-2 Diabetes and twice as likely to succumb to heart disease.

Most scientific studies on genetics focus on European populations. Because of the high rates of poor health prevalent among South Asians, the research could allow scientists to provide better treatment to people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin.

How will they find these genes?

Scientists are searching for knockouts ─ mutations that block a gene from working completely. Traditionally believed to be harmful, these mutations can also be helpful ─ for instance, when they deactivate genes passing on a disease.

Knockouts are more prevalent among populations with related parents. Genetic code that carries greater resilience to disease may also easier to track down in individuals whose parents are related.

Due to the high instances of cousin-marriages in Bangladeshis (10% of the population has related parents) and Pakistanis (30%-40% of the population has related parents), these populations have a higher likelihood of receiving two copies of a rare gene instead of one, making the effects more pronounced ─ and making them the perfect subjects for a study of this kind.

What kind of methodology is being used?

The population under study will consist of 100,000 South Asian adults recruited through GP surgeries, community meetings and mosques, each of whom will be required to answer an initial questionnaire and provide a DNA sample.

Each year, follow-up tests (including blood scans and MRIs) will be conducted on 1,000 participants. People under study will be compensated for their time if they are recalled for (and attend) a second round of tests.

What do they expect to find?

Scientists expect to identify a benchmark for genetic ‘normality’ in South Asian populations, along with explanations as to why they are prone to certain health problems.

While having related parents does contribute to certain rare genetic disorders, scientists don’t believe that the diseases under study are a product of parental relatedness.

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