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Alabama Recruits for Statewide Population Health, Genomics Program

Alabama is recruiting patients for its statewide population health program that will use genomic data to predict disease risks.

Alabama is recruiting participants for a statewide population health and genomics program

Source: Thinkstock

By Jessica Kent

- The Alabama Genomic Health Initiative (AGHI) has begun recruiting participants for its population health program that will use genomic analysis to predict disease.

AGHI is a collaborative effort between the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology. Launched last summer in Birmingham, AGHI is one of the nation’s first statewide initiatives to use genomic analysis to identify individuals at high risk of genetic disease.

“This is a monumental undertaking that has profound implications for the treatment and prevention of disease for the residents of our region and all of Alabama,” said Roger Smalligan, MD, Associate Dean of the UAB School of Medicine Huntsville Regional Medical Campus.

“The value of genomic information is becoming an integral part of precision medicine in Alabama.”

AGHI will recruit diverse groups of participants from every county in Alabama, and researchers will provide genomic analysis to these individuals free of charge.

In its first year, AGHI recruited nearly 2,000 participants. The initiative aims to increase that number to more than 10,000 over the next five years.

The majority of participants will receive a genotyping array test, which will assess approximately 650,000 identified genetic biomarkers.

The test will look for the presence of variants in 59 specific genes that are known to contribute to disease and for which the potential for prevention or treatment exists, including variants that are associated with a genetic risk of ovarian and breast cancer.

If participants test positive for one of these 59 variants, they can consent to receiving that information through genetic counseling and to having that information shared with their provider. The participant will then receive a referral to the appropriate prevention strategies or treatment through his or her primary care provider.

If participants show signs of a genetic condition of undetermined origin, they can opt for whole genome sequencing, a more extensive evaluation. Analysis of these results will also be provided to participants and their physicians, and participants will receive referrals to suitable medical care.

Additionally, participants have the option to share their de-identified genomic data in a database that researchers will use to accelerate population health management and personalized treatment. The database will use resources from the UAB-HudsonAlpha Center for Genomic Medicine, UAB Informatics Institute, and Hugh Kaul Precision Medicine Institute.

Researchers expect that the efforts of AGHI will advance the treatment and prevention of both common and rare conditions.  

Participants can also enroll in Birmingham at UAB’s Kirklin Clinic and Medical Towers locations, and as the initiative progresses researchers will add additional recruitment sites around the state.

“AGHI places Alabama and Huntsville at the center of the revolution to use genetic data to help understand the risk of disease and to find new therapies,” said Greg Barsh, MD, PhD, Faculty Investigator at HudsonAlpha and Co-Director of the AGHI.

“Researchers working on finding cures to conditions like diabetes, heart disease, epilepsy and cancer will be able to utilize knowledge from these data to identify genetic factors that predispose people to these diseases as well as rare disorders — all with the ultimate goal of developing new approaches to prevention, diagnosis and treatment.”

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