Donating DNA to Change the Future of Health Care
By Mary Sawyers
Launched in 2016, the KP Research Bank is positioned to become one of the world’s most important resources for genetic research.
Now there’s a new benefit to being a Kaiser Permanente member: the opportunity to shape the future of health care by helping researchers understand how our genes, environment, and behavior interact to influence our risk for diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, mental illness, and obesity.
These discoveries will be made possible by the KP Research Bank, a massive repository of health data and biological samples.
Formal recruitment efforts for the KP Research Bank began in 2016, with a goal of signing up 500,000 members from all eight KP regions. Volunteers provide a blood sample, sign a consent form, and fill out a survey that takes about 20 minutes. As of August, the bank had collected over 270,000 blood samples, many of which came from Kaiser Permanente’s existing biobank in Northern California. In the Northwest region, more than 7,800 members have signed up, and researchers want to recruit another 10,000 members over the next year and a half.
An Altruistic Endeavor
While KP members who sign up for the KP Research Bank won’t receive information about their own blood sample, they have the satisfaction of knowing that their DNA could provide the key to understanding what factors make people more likely to develop certain diseases, or why some people with a genetic mutation develop diseases while others with the same mutation don’t.
The KP Research Bank is recruiting members from all racial and ethnic backgrounds, aiming to make samples available to study how diseases affect specific populations. It is also creating cohorts of samples from pregnant women and people with cancer.
Any Kaiser Permanente member 18 or older is eligible to join the KP Research Bank. Members who register for kp.org receive e-mail invitations. Others receive a letter in the mail. In Kaiser Permanente’s Northwest region, members might also learn about the KP Research Bank through signage at their medical office or during orientation meetings for new employees.
Northwest Team Members Play a Major Role
The regional recruitment efforts are coordinated by a team from the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research. The team includes Sheila Weinmann, Kristin Muessig, Chalinya Ingphakorn, Padma Dandamudi, Lucy Fulton, Robert Tamer, Nadia Yosuf and Camille Friason.
Other employees from the Northwest are also helping to make the KP Research Bank a success. Phlebotomists collect blood samples from members in Oregon and Washington, and regional lab employees then send them to a central storage location in Berkeley, California.
Reva Ricketts-Loriaux, DO, a KP pathologist in the Northwest region, sits on the review committee that will determine how the samples will be used in research. She emphasizes that the samples will be de-identified, meaning that the members’ names, birth dates, and health record numbers will be removed and replaced by study identification numbers.
“We take this responsibility very seriously,” says Ricketts-Loriaux, who has donated her own DNA. “We want to make sure our members' samples and health information are used carefully and responsibly, and that the research that is being done is practical and meaningful for patients.”
Reva Ricketts-Loriaux is featured in this video about the KP Research Bank
To learn more or to join the KP Research Bank, visit kp.org/researchbank.