A group of Armenian scientists who are launching a research program to map the Armenian genome recently signed a memorandum of understanding to partner with UCLA researchers in the hope of gaining a better understanding of the genetic roots of Armenian people.
Sevak Avagyan, co-founder of the ArmGenia Research Charitable Trust of Yerevan, Armenia, recently signed the agreement last month with Thomas Coates, director of the Center for World Health at UCLA, sealing the research partnership.
The timing of this project is fortuitous. Armenia still has a large number of centenarians who can participate in genetic mapping while they are alive, researchers said. Last year marked the 100th commemoration of the Armenian genocide when global attention was focused on Armenia.
The initiative was made possible by a monetary gift generously donated by Sara Chitjian, a UCLA alumna whose father had witnessed and survived the Armenian genocide. At the signing ceremony, she stated that her hope is that findings from this genome project will be useful in historical studies of the Armenian population.
Not only will genetic mapping have a great impact on the life sciences, said representatives of the partnership, but it will offer enormous benefits in terms of better general health care for Armenians worldwide. The study could lead to important findings on Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF), a genetic disorder that is more prevalent among Armenians.
The project will build on UCLA’s 60-year-old FMF program — one of the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. The program will provide the project with comprehensive interdisciplinary expertise. Dr. Wayne Grody, director of the UCLA Clinical Genomics Center and a professor of pathology, human genetics and pediatrics at the Geffen School of Medicine and Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, will be one of the principal investigators performing the molecular work.
Coordinating the all-day celebration was Salpy Akaragian, director of the UCLA International Nursing Program, who was instrumental in connecting UCLA officials to leaders of the ArmGenia Research Charitable Trust.
Several VIPs, including Mayor Ara Najarian of Glendale, California Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian and Consul Armella Shakaryan from the Consulate General of Armenia in Los Angeles also witnessed the signing.
The gift, given in support of the project, is part of the $4.2 billion UCLA Centennial Campaign, which is scheduled to conclude in December 2019 during UCLA’s 100th anniversary year.