California Launching Massive Genetic Health Database

Researchers can access a treasure trove of genetic analyses from 100,000 elderly Californians

A new genetic database for 100,000 elderly Californians is slated to come online within two years, and marks the first time that genetic data becomes available for such a large and diverse group.

Health-care provider Kaiser Permanente will hand over patient data that includes electronic health records, lifestyle surveys, and info on air and water quality in patients' neighborhoods. The effort draws on $25 million from the National Institutes of Health, and also involves researchers from the University of California, San Francisco.

Scientists hope to use the database to find the genetic factors that play into heart disease and diabetes, as well as perhaps tailor drugs to specific genetic profiles among patients. One recent Nobel Prize winner also hopes to analyze the lengths of telomeres -- DNA caps on the ends of chromosomes that shorten as people age.

Other databases such as the U.K. Biobank may ultimately aim for larger collections of genetic samples, but will not come online anytime soon. Kaiser Permanente hopes to expand its patient data for the project to 500,000 by 2013.