2010 Mehrgan: Iranian Genome Project


PARSA CF Awards $250,000 to the Iranian Genome Project at Stanford University


May 12, 2011

As a part of its Mehrgan 2010 Grant Cycle, PARSA Community Foundation announces a $250,000 grant to the Department of Bioengineering at Stanford University for the "Iranian Genome Project," a one-of-a-kind initiative for better understanding of the genes of the Iranian population.

Researchers at various universities and companies have been working on genetics and genomics. However, the genetics of the Iranian population has never been studied before.  There is no base data on which to evaluate the risk factors of new drugs, as they are being developed, for people of  this ethnic background. This population-specific information is crucial to understanding the health benefits and risk factors of certain drugs. It also helps researchers explain history of a certain population in more depth.

Although all humans are 99.9% identical, the small differences are very important to uncover.  While most genetic research has been conducted on people of European descent, this project promises to shine a bright light on the Iranian people, and makes it easier for scientists interested in personalized medicine to focus on genetics relevant to Iranians. After the project is completed, the resulting data will be made available in the form of scientific publications as well as public databases which will give pharmaceutical companies and credentialed researchers the ability to do follow-up scientific investigations and develop drugs that are compatible to this population.

PARSA CF is delighted to provide private and philanthropic support for such a bold and pioneering work. First in the world to do so, the Stanford research team is in the process of collecting DNA samples from more than 50 Iranians, representing various ethnicities such as Armanians, Kurds, and Turks, and has extensive plans to analyze the data.

The DNA samples are being obtained from individuals from a diverse set of geographic and ethnic backgrounds, to build a foundation that represents the diversity of the Iranian human genetics. The team is currently working with experts on Iranian culture and identifying the different groups from Iran that should be included in the sampling.  They are also working on the consent documents for participants.  An important goal is to ensure the privacy and security of the data, and to minimize the possibility of this genetic information being misused.   With all consents in place, the team will collect spit samples, isolate the DNA from them, and use state-of-the-art "next generation" sequencing machines to determine the sequence of the whole DNA. These will then be analyzed by computer to tally the location and frequency of genetic differences, and to analyze the relationships between different ethnic groups. 

The project will use the latest advancements in genome sequencing through collaboration with other institutions, providing access to devices that can sequence entire genomes and provide data on the entire 6.5 billion blocks of DNA. The genome sequencing research will result in very large datasets, which will be analyzed by a team with expertise in handling such large amounts of data.

The grant makes it possible for the research team to explore the "family tree" of Iranians and understand how they are related.  They will also get a first look at the genetics of the Iranian people, as a starting point for potential health interventions that can use genetics to assess the risk for various diseases and for predicting likely drug responses. This project will provide important baseline data about both the similarities and differences of Iranian genomes and the current human genome, which was predominantly determined based on people of European descent.

PARSA CF is supporting this project to create not only a basis for the anthropological study of the Iranian population, but also the scientific foundation for the health and well-being of Persian children and generations to come. While it's getting cheaper to do so, genome sequencing is still expensive and the cost prohibits private institutions to engage in such ambitious research. At the same time government funding typically does not apply to such ethnic projects. PARSA CF is in a unique position to provide this opportunity for its donors to participate in such strategic and fundamental initiative.

"It is an honor to receive this funding, to allow this exciting collaboration between Stanford, Harvard and Illumina, Inc., and to explore the genetic roots of the Persian people.   We look forward to understanding the "family tree" of Iran, and to use this as a baseline for understanding the health and population history of Iran" said Russ Altman, Chairman, Department of Bioengineering, Stanford University.


For more information about the Stanford Department of Bioengineering, please visit http://bioengineering.stanford.edu/ .


PARSA CF promotes strategic philanthropy and social entrepreneurship within the Persian-speaking communities around the globe. PARSA CF identifies organizations and projects with long term impact and supports them through grants and networking. To date, PARSA CF has awarded a total of $7.3M in grants through its general and donor-advised funds. To learn more about PARSA CF, please visit http://www.parsacf.org/.