Combining DNA, EHRs promising for autism, aging research

Electronic health records combined with DNA show great promise in identifying individuals at risk for diseases and for studying the causes of aging and autism, according to a new series of studies presented at this month's annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics, NPR reports.

The researchers, from Kaiser Permanente of Northern California and the Institute of Human Genetics, obtained saliva specimens of 100,000 Kaiser members and automatically matched the genetic information with patients' EHR data, creating a massive database and "unique opportunities" for large-scale studies, according to the researchers.

For instance, one study of telomeres, a genetic biomarker for aging, found that patients with shorter telomeres were more likely to die at an earlier age. "The large amount of longitudinal clinical data available through EMRs on these subjects along with extensive environmental and behavioral data also makes it an invaluable resource to further understanding the role of telomeres in health and disease," the study's abstract said.

Another study using the same research data reported that cholesterol measures from EHRs were linked to the patient' genetic data. "This study demonstrates the remarkable power of this cohort for identifying genes underlying complex traits using high-quality longitudinal electronic health records linked to extensive [genome wide association] data," this study's abstract noted.

What has received relatively scant attention is the fact that Kaiser presented the results of six different studies at the meeting using the same data, showing its wide range of use and benefit.

EHRs have long been hailed as a way to improve research and improve patient care. Inroads already are being made to wed DNA with EHR data for research purposes.

To learn more:
- read the study abstracts
- check out this NPR article