Genetic data gathered through Geisinger’s MyCode Community Health Initiative has helped in the discovery of gene mutations associated with protection against obesity.

According to a media release, scientists from t he Regeneron Genetics Center found rate mutations of the GPR75 gene after analyzing “deidentified genetic and associated health data from 645,000 volunteers from the United Kingdom, United States and Mexico,” including some involved in the MyCode initiative.

Projections suggest more than one billion people worldwide will suffer severe obesity — defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 35 or higher — by 2030. The research found that “individuals who have at least one inactive copy of the GPR75 gene have lower BMI and, on average, tend to weigh about 12 pounds less and face a 54% lower risk of obesity than those without the mutation.” The protective mutations were in one of about every 3,000 people studied.

“This is a potentially game-changing discovery that could improve the lives and health of millions of people dealing with obesity, for whom lasting interventions have often been elusive,” Doctor Christopher D. Still said in the release. Still is director for the Geisinger Obesity Research Institute at Geisinger Medical Center.

“While the behavioral and environmental ties to obesity are well understood, the discovery of GPR75 helps us put the puzzle pieces together to better understand the influence of genetics. Further studies and evaluation are needed to determine if reducing weight in this manner can also lower the risk of conditions commonly associated with high BMI, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and fatty liver disease.”

Scientists from Regeneron and the new York Medical College collaborated to replicate the findings in mice genetically engineered to lack the GPR71g using Regeneron’s VelociGene® technology. The mice with the altered gene gained 44% less weight than those without the mutation when both groups got a high-fat diet.

In the release, Doctor George Yancopoulus, co-founder and president at Regeneron, said “discovering protective genetic superpowers, such as in GPR75, provides hope in combating global health challenges as complex and prevalent as obesity.”