Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Decoding the longevity DNA of Parsis

The Avestagenome project, that seeks to plot the genetic and medical database of the Parsi community, expects to start its Mumbai-leg of the study this April.

The project would open a base in Mumbai, the centre with the largest Parsi population, for voluntary collection of blood samples from the community, said Dr Villoo Morawala Patell, Founder and Managing Director of Bangalore-based Avesthagen, the biotechnology company that embarked on this five-year, Rs 125-crore project last March.

About 2,500 blood samples have been collected from Hyderabad, Navsari and Surat, Dr Patell told Business Line. The company has been in touch with the Parsi panchayat, besides exploring other alternatives to set up a base that would be close to the community, as it proceeds with the project.

The aim is to collect up to 10,000 samples by the year-end from Mumbai and other cities, she said.

With Parsis showing high levels of longevity, the project seeks to undertake genetic studies to examine the basis of the longevity, besides identifying genes that may be linked to age-related neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The study will also focus on two cancers, including breast cancer, she said.

The aim is to come out with personalised healthcare for the community, that could also give health-related indicators for other communities, she explained. ]

The study will look to establish a model for abbreviated clinical trials, pharmacogenomic-based therapies, development of bio-markers for predictive diagnostics and drug discovery, the company explains.
In touch with deCode

Though Avestagenome may be charting a new course in undertaking such a study in the country, another biotech company, deCode has in the past undertaken a study to map the gene of the people in Iceland.

Close to a decade ago, deCode had undertaken a study to understand the Icelandic community and its health profile, even as it set off a debate on the benefits and ethics- and privacy-related issues. In fact, Avesthagen is in touch with deCode, Dr Patel said, without elaborating. The immediate focus of the project is to put in place scientific processes, blood samples and the data base, she said.

The company could look for a strategic partner, she indicated, as the study progresses.