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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Michigan: Harnessing the Power of Facebook to Study a Large, Diverse Genetic Pool

University of Michigan researchers and their colleagues believe they have found a way to harness the power of social media to recruit a large, diverse participant pool they hope will help provide quick, reliable data for genetic studies.

“The ability to study very large groups of individuals is a key challenge in human genetics, which is using very rare genetic changes—each present in very few individuals—to understand human biology and health and provide leads for design of new medicines,” said senior author Gonçalo Abecasis, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Katharine Brieger, a doctoral student in epidemiology at Michigan Public Health and first author of the report, said that for studies to be relevant to a broader population, they need to include samples of a wide range of racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“Historically, genetic studies were largely made up of people who lived near university medical centers, inadvertently excluding people who lived in more remote areas or who didn’t have the time and money to travel,” she said. “Allowing remote participation with Genes for Good allows many of these people to participate in research for the first time.”

Researchers invited people to participate in the Genes for Good study through Facebook starting in January 2015. As of March 2019, about 117,000 people tried the app, 80,000 people had engaged with the study, 32,000 kits had been sent and 27,000 DNA samples collected. Genotypes for the first 20,232 participants were analyzed.

Researchers said while the study participants tended to be younger and more female than the U.S. population, they more closely resembled it in terms of diversity and household income than other genetic ancestry programs.

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