Science

UNSW scientists to analyse 15,000 DNA samples from landmark aspirin trial

Scientist at work at the UNSW Ramaciotti Centre for Genomics.
Wednesday, 7 November, 2018
UNSW Media / Monash University

UNSW Sydney scientists are part of a collaboration to pioneer detailed research into genetic factors that contribute to good health or disease in the elderly.

The analysis is part of Monash University’s expansion on its landmark aspirin trial, ASPREE, with UNSW scientists conducting genetic analysis of DNA samples from 15,000 ASPREE trial participants whose health was comprehensively tracked for up to seven years.

Dr Helen Speirs, Deputy Director of the UNSW Ramaciotti Centre for Genomics, said this was the largest study of human patients that the Centre had ever done, and one of the largest genetic screens of this type done in Australia.

“We are excited to bring our expertise in high-throughput genotyping to this nationally important project,” Dr Speirs said.

“Our genetic analysis aims to gather as much genetic information about trial participants as possible to inform the trial and ultimately improve participants’ outcomes.”

For the project, the UNSW scientists are using genome-wide Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) analysis, using the new Thermo Fisher Axiom Precision Medicine Diversity Array, a state-of-the-art technology at Centre.

Single nucleotide polymorphisms, frequently called SNPs (pronounced “snips”), are the most common type of genetic variation among people. SNPs occur throughout a person’s DNA, with roughly 10 million SNPs in the human genome.

“Most commonly, these variations are found in the DNA between genes,” Dr Speirs explained.

They can act as biological markers, which helps scientists locate genes that are associated with disease.

Dr Paul Lacaze, Head of Public Health Genomics, Monash University, said the project could help identify genetic markers associated with a positive or negative response to therapies.

“It is possible that underlying genetic factors may explain why some people respond to drug therapies and others do not. If we can discover and understand these factors more clearly, it may help guide drug use in the future, maximising the benefits and minimising the risks for older people.”

This partnership between UNSW, Monash University and Bioplatforms Australia will complement extensive clinical and lifestyle information collected in the ASPREE trial and associated studies, creating a powerful resource for biomedical research.

“ASPREE is a significant international collaboration that we are extremely excited to see enhanced by Bioplatforms’ genomics capability,” said Andrew Gilbert, General Manager of Bioplatforms Australia.

“This project will enable new research across a broad range of diseases and investigate the use of genetic data towards improved public health outcomes.”

Monash University and Bioplatforms are funding the development of the $1 million genetic data resource, with analysis of this data expected to continue for several years.

Dr Lacaze said the new partnership was an example of leading Australian research groups coming together to generate new genetic research into a range of health problems affecting the elderly, such as cancer, diabetes, dementia and age-related macular degeneration.

“The project will generate much-needed evidence to help inform whether genetic factors may play a role in guiding more effective therapeutic and prevention strategies in years to come, bringing us closer to precision medicine.”