The CARTaGENE project wants to recruit 20,000 DNA donors by the fall.

A Quebec project to create a giant bank of DNA for medical research purposes has passed the halfway mark toward its goal.

The CARTaGENE project wants to collect specimens from 20,000 donors by the fall.

The project is targeting people between the ages of 40 and 69 who live in Montreal, Sherbrooke, Saguenay and Quebec City.

Aim to create genetic map of province

Unlike other genetic studies that look at markers for disease in a specific population, the CARTaGENE bank aims to get a cross-section of urban Quebecers, said the project's scientific director, geneticist Philip Awadalla.

"We are trying to really get a snapshot of the Quebec population as a whole," said Awadalla. "So, we will, by chance, recruit a large number of individuals of French descent.

"But we are also going after the overall Montreal makeup of ethnicities as well. Because we are interested in where people are coming from, where they live, how that affects their lifestyles and how that effects their general health."

He said the data will allow scientists to identify how genes interact with a person's environment and how that could affect potential treatment options for different illnesses.

Doctoral students are already working on the sample data collected and the research is bearing fruit, said Awadalla.

"We've already identified from a small pilot study a number of genes that we think can partition high-risk or low-risk individuals with respect to obesity or hypertension," said Awadalla.

Recruitment not always easy

Researcher Pierre Dumas said the toughest cohort to recruit for the project is men in their early 40s.

"They are too busy," said Dumas. "Maybe it's because younger people tend to think they are invincible. 

"They may not be aware of the power, the potential of the research that will come out of CARTaGENE."

The project, which is being completed with the participation of Quebec's Health Insurance Board (RAMQ), is contacting randomly selected potential participants from the RAMQ's index.

Selected candidates may accept or refuse to participate.

The sample represents approximately one per cent of the target age group in the selected regions of Quebec.