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Feature Story

Donating DNA to Benefit Future Generations: Research Bank Seeks Diversity

Involvement — especially from communities of color — can help advance research about diseases prevalent in underserved populations

May 11, 2017



photo of a diverse group of friends on a break from biking

Growing up in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, a desert valley located southeast of Los Angeles, Alex Aldana saw firsthand how cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases affected those in his predominantly migrant Latino community.

Aiming to make a difference in his community, Aldana volunteered to participate in the Kaiser Permanente Research Bank, a long-term research effort designed to help scientists understand how peoples’ health is affected by their genes, behaviors and the environment. In line with Kaiser Permanente’s work to build healthier communities, the research bank seeks to help the organization prevent, diagnose and manage chronic conditions.

photo of Alex Aldana

Alex Aldana, Kaiser Permanente Research Bank participant

“Too often, people think that we just have to wait for a cure,” said Aldana, a Kaiser Permanente member who works as a research assistant at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “But the more we know about our own genetics, the more we can help many generations to come.”

To date, more than 250,000 Kaiser Permanente members have donated blood samples to the research bank, which officially launched last year, positioning it as the second largest private biobank in the nation.

“We’re now halfway to our goal of collecting data and bio-specimens from 500,000 members,” reported Nazneen Aziz, PhD, executive director of the Kaiser Permanente Research Bank. “The more Kaiser Permanente members from different communities who participate, the more enriched is our collection and more powerful our ability to advance knowledge and improve health care for members of diverse communities.”

Kaiser Permanente pathologist Reva Ricketts-Loriaux, featured in the video above, sits on the research bank’s access review committee, which determines how researchers can use the bank’s blood samples and medical information. “We want to make sure the research that is done is practical and meaningful to our patients,” she noted. “We want to get a large diverse population.”

A participant of the research bank herself, Ricketts-Loriaux added, “Not everyone can be a scientist or researcher, but anyone can add to scientific knowledge simply by donating blood.”

The Kaiser Permanente Research Bank has the potential to bring crucial information to communities that are historically underserved by medical research. These communities also often have some of the poorest outcomes from diseases such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

“A big focus for the Research Bank is working with communities of color, in an effort to have findings that are going to benefit these communities,” said Tiffany McDaniel, MPH, KP Research Bank national community advisory board member. “If we’re looking at the bigger picture of how environmental factors influence particular health outcomes that are more prevalent in the Latino, African-American, and Asian Pacific Islander community, then we need to enroll as many people as possible to participate in these research studies.”

The information gathered by the Kaiser Permanente Research Bank can allow researchers to learn what causes certain diseases and share that information with these communities.

“We can’t come out with a community solution if we don’t participate.” Aldana explained. “There’s ‘nothing about us without us.’”

Kaiser Permanente members who want to learn more about the Kaiser Permanente Research Bank, please visit kp.org/researchbank.

How you can join the Kaiser Permanente Research Bank

  • Go online to fill out the consent form.
  • Take a brief health survey.
  • Give a small blood sample.

Participants’ information will be kept private, secure and confidential, and participation will not affect health care coverage or become part of their medical record. Join today!