12 July, 2002
The Romeneskos are the wonderful family that is hosting me while I wait for the science team to head out to the Healy. Randy is the city manager of Nome and his wife, Terry is a nurse. Terry is working with a National Institutes of Health project called GOCADAN (Genetics Of Coronary Artery Disease in Alaskan Natives). The study is similar to the Strong Heart study of the Native Americans of the Dakotas, Oklahoma, and Arizona. The incidence of coronary artery disease has increased substantially among Native Alaskans as they change from a traditional diet and lifestyle, and the researchers are collecting data on a number of factors, hoping to identify a genetic link.
Part of Terry’s job is to coordinate the data collection, not an easy task when villages are remote and can only be reached by air. For each parcticipant in the study there is an interview, a physical exam, glucose tolerance test (for diabetes), electrocardiogram and carotid artery scan. (The carotid artery is the main artery leading from your heart to your head.) In addition, each donates a sample of blood. Imagine the logistics of transporting all the equipment needed for each of these tests by airplane! In addition, the blood sample must be preserved and safely shipped to laboratories on the east coast for analysis.
If my students are reading this, they will understand what it means to analyze the blood samples to determine genotypes at approximately 400 gene locations distributed across all the chromosomes. The researchers will use the information to search for specific genes that contribute to cardiovascular disease. Because the Native villages are so isolated, there has been little outside genetic influence for the past 10,000 years, hopefully making it easier for the researchers to be able to detect and map the related genes. Although the present generation will most likely not benefit, future generations will be healthier as a result of the work being done today.
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