Kaiser Permanente Launches Research Biobank, Aims to Transform Health

What starts with a health survey, data in an electronic medical record and a DNA sample can lead to breakthroughs in how health care providers diagnose, treat and prevent disease. That’s exactly what Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health plans, has in mind as it builds the Kaiser Permanente Research Bank, a long-term biobank resource that’s now inviting Kaiser Permanente members 18 and older to participate.

The national effort, which kicks off large-scale recruitment today, is part of Kaiser Permanente’s work to advance research innovation, contribute to personalized medicine, and ultimately reduce and eliminate health disparities. Participation involves having members fill out a survey, granting researchers access to members’ past and future electronic medical records, and having members donate a small sample of blood. Participation is completely voluntary and doesn’t affect one’s health coverage.

“The KP Research Bank will help us continue our longstanding history of nurturing the generation of new knowledge in support of the total health of our members and communities,” said Karen Emmons, PhD, vice president of Kaiser Permanente Research. “It represents the very best of our organization’s ability to conduct research by bringing together our strong scientists from across Kaiser Permanente to transform the future of health.”

With more than 220,000 Kaiser Permanente members enrolled through previous regional biobanking efforts, the KP Research Bank is already among the world’s largest resources of its kind. Over the next few years, researchers aim to add another 280,000 participants who represent membership in all seven Kaiser Permanente regions. Biobanks — a term often used to describe research resources that gather medical data and genetic information and use it to drive health research — are not new. Other major biobanks include those initiated by the governments of the United Kingdom, Japan and Iceland, as well projects led by the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“One of the interesting things about the KP Research Bank is that in addition to DNA samples, we ask our participants about behavioral and environmental factors,” said Sarah Rowell, associate director, KP Research Bank. “That means we’re able to connect this information with data from the patient’s electronic medical record, which could allow us to make discoveries that just aren’t possible with other research resources.”

Another aspect of the KP Research Bank that makes it distinct is that participants come from Kaiser Permanente’s diverse population, which means that researchers can study common conditions and diseases as well as rarer ones. In research, sample size and diversity of participants matter because discoveries become statistically significant with larger data pools.

Kaiser Permanente’s previous biobank resources have already fueled a wide range of ongoing studies exploring the interplay of genetics and behavioral data to learn more about breast cancer among Latinas, genetic influences on blood pressure as well as colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, hernias, staph infections, allergies, narcolepsy and bipolar disorders.

Empowering communities through research

family with tablet

Participation in the KP Research Bank means different things to different people. For some, it’s about an investment in the health of future generations. For others it’s about empowering communities.

“The KP Research Bank has the potential to empower historically underserved communities,” said Tiffany McDaniel, MPH, KP Research Bank national community advisory board member. “By participating in it, people within these communities can help researchers develop knowledge that may help one’s children and grandchildren. The more diverse the pool of participants, the more the findings will apply and help those participants and people like them in their communities.”

Kaiser Permanente researchers note that building a research resource that reflects the great diversity of the organization’s member population is key to ensuring breadth in future studies and that findings will be relevant to more people.

“When it comes to treatment, what works for one group may not work for another with different genetic variation or different environmental or lifestyle exposures,” said Emmons. “That’s why it’s critical to include all populations in the development of treatments, if results are to be generalizable. The KP Research Bank may be able to help us with that.”

Kaiser Permanente members who want to learn more about the KP Research Bank can find an overview of it and participation instructions at kp.org/researchbank.

 

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