Towards a healthier nation

THE republic is embarking on a mission to map the DNA and the complete set of genes of 100,000 Singaporeans – to unravel clues that will further the population’s health and well-being.

By scrutinising genes and dissecting biological processes at the molecular level, doctors and researchers can pinpoint the underlying causes of cancer and chronic ailments, and identify new ways to prevent or slow down disease progression.

This would help to pave the way for new drugs, faster diagnostics and targeted treatments through precision medicine, said Professor Patrick Tan, executive director of Precision Health Research, Singapore (Precise), the entity that will helm the population study.

Over the next three years, the whole genomes of 100,000 healthy Singaporeans – between the ages of 30 and 80 – will be sequenced and analysed to create one of Singapore’s largest research data sets.

Malay and Indian participants will comprise 40% of the 100,000, and the rest will be Chinese.

The project, called SG100K, will end up as one of Asia’s leading reference genome databases since Singapore’s ethnic diversity captures more than 80% of Asia’s diversity.

Yesterday, Precise and genomics technology leader Illumina inked a partnership agreement to kick-start the SG100K effort.

The whole genome sequences will amount to 20 petabytes of data – which is equivalent to about 200,000 high-definition movies.

The human brain can store around 2.5 petabytes of memory.

To date, the project has enrolled 70,000 participants from existing cohort studies and is working towards recruiting the remaining 30,000 participants at a rate of 300 participants per week, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who attended the ceremony and toured Illumina’s premises in Woodlands.

Heng added that Precise has in place robust safeguards to protect the privacy and security of the data collected from the people.

The remaining 30,000 participants will be recruited mainly through referrals from the healthcare clusters, and from those who sign up for The Health For Life In Singapore population cohort study, led by Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine.

Under the SG100K project, participants’ blood samples will be sent for whole genome sequencing.

The genomic data will also be linked to other physical health measurements taken from the participants. This means that participants have to undergo a whole day of tests, which include measuring blood sugar and cholesterol levels, a fitness test using trackers, and answering a questionnaire on their lifestyle. — The Straits Times/ANN

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