In simplified terms, what is the goal of this research?
This research aims to develop an epigenetic map of who we are for the first time, figuring out which genes the body activates to produce positive traits like empathy, friendliness, caring for others, mental well-being, and negative traits like anxiety and depression. We now have a basic understanding of the body's epigenetic map - the skeletal structure, such as cancer risk factors, and so on - but who we are, remains a mystery. Project Alpha will serve as a window into the human mind for scientists.
So, what's the big deal about this research?
In recent years, many scientific breakthroughs in personalized treatments for diseases and disorders that previously had no treatment have attracted attention.
Many of these new therapies come from the study of epigenetics and are based on an understanding of how the body activates and deactivates specific genes.
The first step in treatment is identifying the elements that cause an illness using epigenetics and reverse-engineering the process. Due to our lack of understanding of psychological epigenetics, we have been unable to recognize behavioral or emotional traits and provide suitable treatments. Moreover, treating a mental disease does not necessarily take us a step forward in forming a healthy mind. For the first time, Project Alpha will present a more comprehensive understanding of the normative human psyche, of "who we are," and provide precedential insights, including more effective therapies.
Sounds intriguing; how do I know if I'm the right person for the job?
We're looking for young couples that are planning their first child in the near future.
How long will I take part?
To understand more about the mind and consciousness and establish an epigenetic map of it, researchers must look at how the personality develops while also looking at epigenetic alterations in the genome. This knowledge will allow researchers to link emotional, behavioral, and mental changes to the epigenetic mechanisms that influence them. The investigation must be undertaken in-depth and over a long period of time to obtain this information. As a result, Project Alpha begins before conception and continues until the child reaches the age of 20. This time frame will allow for long-term research and comprehension, as well as the achievement of the project's goals.
Sounds Serious. Who is behind this Study?
This study is led by a team of Israeli academics led by Professor Tsachi Ein-Dor and Professor Anat Shoshani from Reichman University in Herzeliya, Israel, collaborating with the Ziv Medical Center in Safed. In addition, the research includes world-renowned neurologists Dr. Pascal Vrticka of the University of Essex and Professor Willem Verbeke of Erasmus University in Rotterdam as partners. Additional research institutes involved in the research include the world's most advanced center for positive psychology, Erasmus Medical Center's Department of Molecular Genetics, and Utrecht University Hospital's department of Genetics, under the advisement of Dr. Michael Mokry.
What are the advantages of taking part in this research study?
In addition to the value humanity will receive from Project Alpha's discoveries, Project Alpha participants - you, the young couples - will have access to an exclusive collection of works and data curated by top tier experts and tailored to accompany young couples throughout the most critical stages of life - relationships, pregnancy, birth, and the journey of upbringing your children and teens, as well as insights into forming better family units. Furthermore, for each meeting, participants will receive a monetary incentive.
Where does it proceed from here if I sign up?
The "Process and Stages of Research" tab has a detailed description of the research procedure. The research includes several meetings: before the first pregnancy, during the first and third trimesters, after the baby is delivered and taken home, and then at the ages of one, two, five, eight, twelve, sixteen, and twenty. At each stage, genetic data in the form of a non-invasive saliva sample will be collected, as well as psychological data in order to link it with the genetic data. The psychological data will be gathered through online questionnaires and brief film recordings of interactions in the couples' natural setting of their home. Following your registration for Project Alpha, a representative will contact you by phone or email to provide additional information and to set up a first introduction meeting at your home, which a Reichman researcher will attend.
Will we have to go somewhere or travel?
Each meeting will last approximately 45 minutes and take place at your home. One of our representatives will schedule the sessions in advance, and a researcher from Reichman University will arrive and conduct the meeting.
Who is funding such a large research project?
Scientific research grants and philanthropic foundations interested in contributing to scientific discoveries have funded this research.
What kind of information about me and my family is collected during the study?
The information gathered will be used solely for research purposes. DNA samples from saliva samples, brief footage of interactions around the house, and self-reporting questionnaires are all included in this data.
How long will this information be kept on file?
The information gathered will be saved throughout the study in order to build a complete picture of our research and guarantee that our objectives are attained.
Where will this data be stored?
This information will be stored on encrypted drives at Reichman University in Herzliya. The data will be encrypted and will contain no identifying information. The genetic data will be transmitted to Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, which is one of the world's most advanced medical research institutes, for analysis. The decoding results will be transferred back to Israel and stored on Reichman University's encrypted disks.
What is the purpose of this data?
This information will only be used for research purposes and not be disclosed. The Reichman University Ethics Committee and the Helsinki Committee for Medical Research at Ziv Hospital in Safed have both approved this research.
Who has access to this information?
To ensure the confidentiality of participants, the researchers and staff of Project Alpha have access to this material with no identifying information available. Only the project leader, Associate Professor Tsachi Ein-Dor, and the project manager have access to identifying information to enable work on correlating the data acquired over time.
Who has given their approval to this research?
In Israel, every study must be approved by an ethical committee. The Reichman University Ethics Committee has approved Project Alpha (Confirmation number 17146983). Furthermore, as of 2016, the study received approval from the Helsinki Committee for Medical Research at Ziv Hospital in Safed, which is responsible for ensuring and enforcing the ethical regulations for any study, as well as ensuring that they follow the proper procedures set forth by the Ministry of Health for genetic studies. Professor Tsachi Ein-Dor is also trained and certified in Good Clinical Practice in accordance with EU rules (Confirmation number 323673640773).
What is the definition of an informed consent form?
Each participant shall provide their informed consent to participate in the study before it begins. An informed consent form outlines all of the study's obligations to the participants, including an explanation of the study's purpose, a definition of genomic research, a focus on confidentiality, an explanation of the participant's ability to terminate the study at any time, a description of the compensation, and more. Each couple will be requested to sign the form (below is a sample copy) to approve participation in the Alpha project during the first meeting.
Is the research covered by insurance?
Madanes Insurance Agency Ltd., which covers clinical trials in Israel, is responsible for the Alpha project.
Is it possible to withdraw from the research?
Participants may withdraw from the study at any moment without providing the research team notice and without consequence to the compensations owed to them based on the stage in which they participated. When a participant's involvement in the study comes to an end, they have the option of having the genetic data obtained removed.
What is a DNA test, and how does it work?
DNA testing is used to learn more about a person's genetic code. The genetic information of each of us is made up of four types of molecules (the letters that make up the code), each of which allows the cells to produce proteins in a certain sequence, which are the foundation of all of our bodily functions. A different sequence will lead to different protein syntheses and, as a result, a different activity. Epigenetic information is also contained in DNA. Information regarding methyl components, in particular, instructs the body on which sections of the genetic code to read and which to ignore (a process that goes by the name "methylation"). We examine both the genetic coding and methylation in the Alpha project.
What is the procedure for performing a DNA test?
A saliva collection tube is used to obtain a non-invasive saliva sample for the test. Each test tube has a unique code that allows the results to be cross-referenced with the psychological data that will be collected.
How do genetics and epigenetics differ?
Genetics is the study of the genetic code that every one of us is born with and that can be found in the nucleus of every cell in our body (except for the sex cells - the sperm and eggs - which contain only half of our genetic code). This fact begs the question: if the code in every cell and cell in our body is the same, how does the body know how to use the code to make a brain cell in the brain and a skin cell in the skin? The body recognizes how to perform that because of epigenetic processes, which instruct each cell and cell on which sections of code to execute and which not to run. Thus, the active part of a brain cell is the part that transmits messages for brain cell production, whereas the active part of a skin cell is another section that includes information for skin cell production.
Who we are, is presumably formed similarly: one part of the code is active in promoting sociability in one personality, while another part of the code is active in promoting anti-social tendencies in another.