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Research & Innovation

Yale Generations Project Offers No-Cost Genetic Screening

September 8, 2021

Clinical trial seeks 100,000 volunteers to learn their health risks.

The leading causes of death in the United States right now are heart disease and cancer. And, says Michael Murray, MD, a Yale Medicine geneticist and clinical director of the Yale Center for Genomic Health, “We're not very good at predicting who's going to get either heart disease or cancer—but some of the answer is in your genetic code.” 

Dr. Murray leads Yale’s Generations Project, an ambitious plan and a clinical trial that offers both personal benefit and the opportunity to contribute to medical research that has the potential to improve health outcomes for future generations. Generations’ goal is to enroll at least 100,000 people in a project that promotes precision medicine by taking a sample of each volunteer’s DNA and then creating a genomic data set that can be used both to assess individual health risks and to improve scientific understanding of genomics and genetics.  

“Right now, we have a very limited list of genes that the project is able to look at and deliver risk results for,” notes Dr. Murray, adding that one to two people out of every hundred will have one of these risks. Most of these individuals are likely unaware of their risk, he explains. “Through the project, we hope to identify their risk and give it back to them and their doctors so that they can do something about it.”  

At present, the program screens for 10 genes, but will continue to add more over time—and, importantly, the program will be able to cross-reference earlier samples with newer findings, so if relevant new mutations are identified and an early participant has the mutation, he or she will be informed. “The project has no end in sight,” says Dr. Murray. “We'll keep adding to the list, so as this grows over time, it will be a whole new area of preventative medicine.”  

What is 'germline DNA' and why is it important?

It is often said that our DNA provides the building blocks for our entire genetic code. Each person has more than 3 billion letters of code, within which we have 20,000 genes, each of which encodes a protein that serves a specific function within the body. Over the course of our lives, changes to the code (called mutations) can occur. Some of the changes are insignificant, while others drive risk for disease.  

The Generations Project focuses on the genetic sequence called the “germline DNA,” which is the DNA with which an individual is born. The germline DNA is distributed through about a trillion cells in the body; changes (mutations) can occur in these cells that may predispose a person to serious disease. Knowing in advance that this risk exists enables people to take measures—such as lifestyle modification or screening—to minimize the odds that health problems arise.  

“We've had a long tradition in medicine of screening people for things that they might not know about, but that if they did, they could do something about it,” Dr. Murray said.

In this video, Dr. Murray explains the details of and reasoning behind the Generations Project.  

For more information or to enroll in the Generations Project, call 203-605-6884 or email generationsproject@yale.edu.