BY FEDRA DJOURABCHI
WESTWOOD, Calif.—As 2015 marked the 100th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide and global attention was focused on Armenia, a group of Armenian investigators set out to launch a research program that would map the Armenian genome. This initiative was made possible with a monetary gift generously donated by Sara Chitjian, a UCLA alumna whose father had witnessed and survived the Armenian genocide.
On Friday, February 19, Dr. Thomas Coates, director of the UCLA Center for World Health; Dr. Wayne Grody, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, pediatrics, and human genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA; and Drs. Sevak Avagyan and Evgeni Sokurenko, co-founders of the ArmGenia Research Charitable Trust, Yerevan, Armenia, signed the memorandum of understanding (MOU) sealing the research partnership between the two organizations.
The main objective of this research project is to better understand the genetic roots of Armenian people. The timing of this project is also fortuitous as Armenia still has a large number of centenarians that could participate in this genetic mapping while they are alive. At the signing ceremony, Chitjian stated that her hope is that the findings from this genome project would be useful in historical studies of the Armenian population.
This MOU fits well with UCLA’s legacy of working towards the advancement of global health, education, and collaborative medical research. Not only will this genetic mapping have a great impact on the life sciences and offer enormous benefits in terms of better general health care for the Armenians worldwide, but the study could also lead to important findings on Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF), a genetic disorder that is more prevalent among Armenians than any other nation.
The project builds on UCLA’s 60-year-old FMF program — one of the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere — and provides comprehensive interdisciplinary expertise. Dr. Wayne Grody will be one of the principal investigators, performing the molecular work.
Salpy Akaragian, RN-BC, MN, director of the UCLA International Nursing Program, who was instrumental in connecting UCLA to the co-founders of ArmGenia Research Charitable Trust, Drs. Avagyan and Sokurenko, coordinated the all-day celebration. A number of VIPs, such as the Honorable Ara Najarian, esq. the Mayor of Glendale; the Honorable Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, esq.; and Consul Armela Shakaryan from the Consulate of Armenia in Los Angeles, were also present to witness this historical moment.