Participants sought for a Maryland study
If you’d like to be part of a new research program whose goal is to improve the health of Marylanders, the University of Maryland School of Medicine wants to hear from you.
Researchers are seeking to engage 250,000 Marylanders to build a resource that will enable a broad range of health- and disease-related research.
They’ll use surveys and other health information as well as DNA samples to learn more about how disease affects diverse populations — and maybe how to prevent disease in the first place. The study, called My Healthy Maryland, launched in July.
People who participate in the study “are contributing to new knowledge and will lead to new preventive and new therapies for disease,” said Dr. Alan Shuldiner, M.D., study co-leader.
How it works
Any Maryland resident over age 18 is welcome to join. The first step is to watch a short video on your computer, tablet or mobile phone to learn about the My Healthy Maryland study.
“Once one is informed about the study, they can electronically sign the consent,” Shuldiner explained.
Next, people will fill out several online surveys about their health history, and let the research team know where to access their medical records.
Then participants will receive a kit in the mail, swab the inside of their cheek, and drop the sample in the mail.
The research team at the University of Maryland School of Medicine can then extract DNA from the sample. Researchers plan to “identify sets of genes and gene mutations that put whole hosts of people at risk for disease — cardiovascular disease, diabetes,” and more, according to Shuldiner.
Occasionally participants will receive general updates on the research as well as health tips. Eventually participants will have the option to learn about their own individual research findings, which may be relevant to their health.
Also, participants will be contacted from time to time with opportunities to enroll in new research studies.
Addressing privacy concerns
All health information and the DNA specimen will be “de-identified before sharing with researchers,” Shuldiner said. In other words, names will be removed, but such things as age, gender and race will remain on the coded specimen.
“We go through extraordinary efforts to protect personal identifying information and health data. I think that data is quite safe and quite secure,” he said. “While the risks are not zero, I believe that they are minimal.”
My Healthy Maryland seeks to enroll a wide variety of people. “We’d like the 250,000 participants to be a microcosm that represents of the diversity of Maryland,” Shuldiner said.
Some people may be hesitant to enroll in the study. “At the end of the day, trust is a big deal,” said Shuldiner, who works with the Amish community. Nonetheless, he is optimistic that hundreds of thousands of Marylanders will step forward to help science. After all, this study carries no risk to health, and can be done entirely from home.
“There’s an altruistic nature to research, and people often feel good about donating their time, effort and biospecimens to science,” he said.
To find out more about the My Healthy Maryland study, visit marylandprecisionhealth.org or call (410) 706-6140.