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Researchers size-up what is 'normal'


24 March 2014

Researchers from the University of Sydney's Faculty of Health Sciences will build a human database to scientifically measure and classify what is 'normal' across the population.

The landmark 1000 Norms Project will catalogue human variation among healthy Australians between the ages of three to 100 to help clinicians better diagnose disease, direct treatment and evaluate patient progress.

Primary researchers for the project, Marnee McKay and Jennifer Baldwin, will measure the physical and health information of 1,000 healthy Australians, recording their body measurements and testing their balance, strength, power, coordination and movement. The study will also collect DNA saliva samples from participants to test for the ACTN3 gene, commonly referred to as the 'gene for speed', and evaluate the link between genetics and physical characteristics.

"This project will finally catalogue the normal physical variation in the Australian community and go some way towards helping answer the age-old question: am I normal?" said Ms McKay.

"While normal may be a loaded term, it's important for clinicians to be able to measure norms so they can assess health and function.

"In healthcare, knowledge of healthy human variation is essential for clinicians to make a diagnosis and to evaluate the effect of treatment."

Researcher Jennifer Baldwin said the database will be an invaluable tool for health policy makers providing a unique collection of healthy normative measures to better facilitate diagnosis and influence policy.

"The database will transform our understanding of the boundaries of health and disease and influence how we define healthy aging," Ms Baldwin said.

"Everyone accepts that no two human are the same, but to diagnose disease it is imperative we can reliably compare a patient's symptoms or physical limits against norms collected from the healthy population.

"As our population ages the study will allow clinicians and public policy makers to define healthy ageing and establish what is 'normal' during the ageing process.

"The database will also measure how the gene for speed influencesmuscle function and performanceand drives physical variation."

University of Sydney researchers are still seeking healthy volunteers between the ages of three and 100 to visit the University of Sydney performance lab in Lidcombe and participate in the project to influence global healthcare.

To participate in the project visit http://sydney.edu.au/health-sciences/research/1000-norms.shtml or email 1000.norms@sydney.edu.au.

The project is funded by theNational Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, Centre for Research Excellence in Neuromuscular Disorders and Australian Podiatry Education and Research Foundation.

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Media enquiries: Jessica Hill, 8627 1433, 0407 926 077, j.hill@sydney.edu.au