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TX Biobytes from Texas Biomed Episode 037 — The Heart of the Problem: A Genetic Study of Native Americans

Thirty years ago, NIH-funded researchers began looking at particular risk factors for heart disease in the Native American population. What Texas Biomed scientists and collaborators across the country have found is impacting all of us.

Now, Texas Biomed has received a 7-year, $3 million dollar grant to continue working on the Strong Heart Study of American Indians (SHS). Shelley Cole, Ph.D., Associate Professor and co-lead of the Population Health program at Texas Biomed, will direct the Strong Heart Study Genetics Center and Chair the Strong Heart Study Steering Committee.

Associate Professor Shelly Cole, Ph.D. (left of sign), is part of a team of Strong Heart Study investigators from around the country.

Participants in the study come from 12 different tribes in 3 different regions: Arizona, Oklahoma, and North and South Dakota. Data and samples collected over the past four decades are a treasure trove of information for researchers. All results from the study receive tribal approval before they are released.

The Native Americans also benefit from being involved in the research. For Raymond Roy Almanza — a member of the Comanche Tribe from Oklahoma — being a part of the Strong Heart Study was more than just an opportunity to help scientists understand his ethnic group’s health issues. It helped his health.

Courtesy Strong Heart Study

“Because of my participation in the study, I found out I had high levels of blood sugar. I found out I had diabetes. The people at the Strong Heart Study caught the situation before it became a serious threat to my health,” Almanza said.

“We really want to find culturally appropriate ways of improving American Indian health,” Cole stressed. “It’s not going to be the same approaches taken with the community at large in the U.S. As a human geneticist, I know that we really need to have information on all human population groups to make wise decisions about how to handle public health issues.”