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“Global healthcare should be predictive, preventive and precise, based on population genetics”

The Avestagenome Project® was conceptualised with the intent of building a complete genealogical, medical and genetic database of the Parsi population in India. The Avestagenome Project® will identify within the Zoroastrian population, genetic risk factors which predispose individuals to cancers, elucidate gene function and improve public health through early intervention whilst improving disease prevention strategies and delivering improved patient health outcomes.

 

Mission

 

Our mission is to create a unique, one-of-a-kind Zoroastrian ‘Living Blood Bank’ designed to advance healthcare by turning to real-world data. Data obtained from sequencing the Zoroastrian communities in India and globally using a high-throughput multi-omics based systems biology platform will deliver community healthcare insights to improve clinical outcomes worldwide positioning the Avestagenome Project® as a leader in personalised Precision Medicine.

 

Unique Directive

 

The Parsi Zoroastrian Ethnic Group is ideal for precision medicine based population research because it is small, homogeneous and localized to a limited geographical area in India. The data repository will also house information from the public domain and the results from the Project’s molecular analyses and studies. This is the largest epidemiological study to ever be conducted in India. Such databases are rare and extremely valuable for drug discovery pipeline programmes across multiple future generations.

The importance of the Parsi community’s unique genomic characteristics has been recognized by the US-based Foundation for a Smoke Free World (whose mission is to end smoking within this generation). With a dedicated management and laboratory leadership team, this international grant-directed programme aims on maximizing the value outcome from The Avestagenome Project® ’s comprehensive data repository/blood bank, and AGENOME’s longitudinal sample and patient records, prioritizing research in lung and environment-induced cancers. Results of the project are expected to have wide-ranging implications on human health for the general population around the world.

The Avestagenome Project® will house information from the public domain and the results from the project’s molecular analyses and studies to deliver predictive, preventive and personalized medicines and qualified drug targets for a range of high morbidity diseases of global relevance.

When complete, the Parsi Zoroastrian cohort population and separate Indian population cohorts will represent one of the most unique and advanced global targeted population genomics projects.

 

The use of a closed Parsi Zoroastrian control population is the key differentiator from other initiatives, enabling the study of targeted cancers and the preponderance of age-related diseases. This accelerates detection opportunities for the project goals – to identify biomarkers (diagnostics) for predicting cancers and diseases and provides targets for related drug development programmes. Also, providing research and commercialisation partnering options with sovereign genomics programmes. The Avestagenome Project® additionally aims to uncover the basis of longevity in the Parsi population.

As Mahatma Gandhi once remarked , “In numbers, Parsis are beneath contempt, but in contribution, beyond compare”

The Parsi Zoroastrian Journey

 

The history of human civilisation shortlists a few races that could reach heights of glory and perfection, intellectually and culturally, making contributions towards the betterment of the human race. Once such race is the story of the Persian Zoroastrians, followers of one of the oldest religions of the world from the Iranian Plateau. Following the destruction of Persepolis by Alexander of Macedonia, and an interregnum culminating in the Arab invasion of Persia, The Zarathushtrian state faced a systemic attack on life and ignominy. The story of their genome does not however die by the sword, but blossoms forth , to rise from the ashes to flourish once again.

The Persians Zoroastrians who fled from Iran in order to safeguard the freedom to practice their religion set sail from the port of Hormuz in the Persian gulf and found refuge in Gujarat, the western shore of India around 930 AD assimilating into the Indian culture whilst retaining their heritage and identity. The Parsis soon pioneered their way to Bombay as traders, ushered in innovation in textile weaving and designing, adept at learning local languages and english acting as a liaison between the Europeans and native Indians thus commandeering establishments in trade, commerce, the fine arts, architecture and administration.

 

In the years to come, the community re-awakened their engineering skills to build a modern city on the western shore of India. The Majestic Bombay was a product of the architectural splendours that they had once given shape to in ancient Iran. Their enthusiasm for nation building saw some eminent Parsis playing an active role in seeking political freedom of India from the British rule both in India and on the English soil as well.

Philantrophy has been the cornerstone of the Zoroastrian faith resulting in hundreds of charity trusts being established for the welfare and well-being of the less fortunate, the sick and the destitute. It is also a paradigm in the faith that human beings are custodians of nature and that they must always endeavour to maintain the essential purity of the environment.

Through the years, the Parsi community which has overcome adversity over the centuries faces its greatest strife yet. There has been an alarming 10% decline in the Parsi-Zoroastrian community every ten years. Current estimates are 60,000 in India, half as many as there were in the 1940’s.

 

A steep demographic decline in the population poses a great danger for a culture being lost completely. The history of endogamous marriages advocated by the faith coupled with infertility, late marriages and increased incidence of chronic diseases have crippled the growth of the community.

 

The importance of this community to get back on its feet cannot be understated. Advances in healthcare systems and a deeper understanding of the community at a genetic level would help devise strategies to stem the decline to ensure their legacy, heritage and the pioneering spirit is preserved and passed on as an Integral part of India’s cultural landscape.