Massive collaboration leads to new findings on global disease burden

Data from ORCADES and VIKING Health Study - Shetland volunteers was included in a recent study investigating global disease burden.

Paper dolls circling the globe

The study involved data from over 1 million people. It was led by Prof Jim Wilson and is one of the largest ever genetic studies. It involved hundreds of research teams representing 40 different countries across all continents.

The research expands on earlier work by Prof Wilson’s group on the effects of parental relatedness. The new focus is on 100 different aspects of health that had been measured on most or all of the volunteers.

If we go back far enough in time, we are all related. This means that all of our parents are related in some way. In some populations there are closer levels of relatedness than others. For example, cousin marriage is a cultural norm in many societies. In the world over, the level of how related we are varies greatly.

The researchers found that how related families are influences five areas of health, including body size and thinking skills. The strongest effect was on fertility. If your parents were cousins, it decreased the chance that you would have children.

Good evidence was found that these effects are due to rare genetic variants. They influence the chance of someone getting a broad range of human disease. The effects of this on fertility were especially striking. It had not previously been possible to show this, as studies before this were much smaller.

Cousin marriage was already known to increase the risk of inherited diseases in the children. However, it was not well known until now that it can also have other effects on health.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications: 

Associations of autozygosity with a broad range of human phenotypes