Huntsville, Ala. — HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine (UAB) have launched the Alabama Genomic Health Initiative (AGHI) to improve health for people across the state.
The project, funded by a $2 million appropriation from the Alabama legislature, supports one of the nation’s first statewide efforts to harness the power of genomic analysis to help identify those at high risk for a genetic disease, and provide a basis for continuing research into genetic contributors to health and disease.
“This initiative advances the tremendous work already being done in genomics at HudsonAlpha and at UAB,” said Rick Myers, PhD, president and science director of HudsonAlpha. “Genomics is dependent on several factors, data being one of them. Undoubtedly individuals will benefit from the AGHI; additionally, the initiative could lead to identification of new genetic diseases and new treatments for those conditions that will benefit Alabamians and the rest of the world. Through AGHI, we can help make our citizens healthier, and demonstrate the value and power of genomic medicine in creating a new paradigm for healthcare. HudsonAlpha is proud to partner with UAB for this groundbreaking initiative.”
“Since the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003, we’ve learned a tremendous amount about the role of genes in disease,” said Bruce R. Korf, MD, PhD, chair of the UAB Department of Genetics and co-director of the AGHI. “This project will result in immediate health benefits to some participants, and in the long term will help to address problems of chronic disease and rising healthcare costs in the state. It will also position Alabama as a leader at the forefront of 21st century medicine.”
The AGHI will recruit a diverse group of participants from every county in Alabama and provide genomic analysis and interpretation to this group free-of-charge. For some, the results will indicate an increased risk of a disease for which preventive or treatment strategies exist. Those participants will receive genetic counseling and be linked to appropriate medical care. The initiative will also feature a public education campaign about genomic medicine and create a DNA biobank for research.
In the first year, the initiative plans on recruiting 2,000 individuals who will provide a DNA sample from a simple blood draw. Over a five-year period, the goal will be to increase the database to include genetic information from more than 10,000 persons.
Participants with a genetic condition of undetermined origin will receive whole genome sequencing, conducted at HudsonAlpha. Analysis and interpretation of those results will also be communicated to the patient/parents and his or her primary medical provider, and participants will be linked to appropriate medical care, potentially including Smith Family Clinic for Genomic Medicine on the HudsonAlpha campus or the UAB Undiagnosed Diseases Program.
“Both HudsonAlpha and UAB have extensive genomics experience in both the research and clinical arenas,” said Greg Cooper, PhD, faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha and co-leader of the sequencing workgroup for AGHI. “What we know already about the human genome will immediately benefit participants, and what we learn throughout the duration of the initiative will help transform the landscape not only for participants but for their families—in the short term—and all of society longterm,” Cooper added.
Ethical, legal and social issues will also be addressed by AGHI, which has formed a bioethics working group to ensure the initiative conforms to the highest ethical principles. The group is comprised of three bioethicists, two from HudsonAlpha and one from UAB.
The AGHI consists of four working groups. The genomics working group is led by Greg Cooper, PhD, a faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha; and Anna Hurst, MD, assistant professor, UAB Department of Genetics. The recruitment working group is led by Mona Fouad, MD, UAB senior associate dean for Diversity and Inclusion; and William Curry, MD, UAB associate dean for Rural Health and Primary Care.
The bioethics working group is led by Mariko Nakano, PhD, assistant professor, UAB Department of Medical Education; Kim Strong, PhD, faculty investigator and director of the ethics and genomics program at HudsonAlpha; and Tom May, PhD, research faculty investigator, HudsonAlpha. The data and bio banking working group is headed by Jim Cimino, MD, director of the UAB Informatics Institute; and Jeff Edberg, PhD, professor in the UAB Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology.
In addition, the AGHI will have a steering committee to provide oversight on procedures and policies. Myers will lead the committee along with Edward Partridge, MD, the director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center; and three leaders in the UAB School of Medicine: Etty Benveniste, PhD, senior associate dean for Research Administration and Development; Robert Kimberly, MD, senior associate dean for Clinical and Translational Research; and Toni Leeth, MPH, associate dean for Strategic Planning and Administration.
Recruitment of subjects will begin this spring at UAB, followed by recruitment efforts at Cooper Green in Birmingham, as well as at UAB clinical operations in Huntsville, Montgomery and Selma, and eventually other sites in Alabama.
About HudsonAlpha: HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is a nonprofit institute dedicated to innovating in the field of genomic technology and sciences across a spectrum of biological challenges. Opened in 2008, its mission is four-fold: sparking scientific discoveries that can impact human health and well-being; bringing genomic medicine into clinical care; fostering life sciences entrepreneurship and business growth; and encouraging the creation of a genomics-literate workforce and society. The HudsonAlpha biotechnology campus consists of 152 acres nestled within Cummings Research Park, the nation’s second largest research park. Designed to be a hothouse of biotech economic development, HudsonAlpha’s state-of-the-art facilities co-locate nonprofit scientific researchers with entrepreneurs and educators. The relationships formed on the HudsonAlpha campus encourage collaborations that produce advances in medicine and agriculture. Under the leadership of Dr. Richard M. Myers, a key collaborator on the Human Genome Project, HudsonAlpha has become a national and international leader in genetics and genomics research and biotech education, and includes more than 30 diverse biotech companies on campus. To learn more about HudsonAlpha, visit: http://hudsonalpha.org/.
About UAB Medicine: UAB Medicine comprises the School of Medicine and the $3 billion UAB Health System that includes all of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s patient-care activities and 2,300 licensed beds in six hospitals, one of which is UAB Hospital — the third-largest public hospital in the United States, winner of the Women’s Choice award, and one of U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals. UAB is the state of Alabama’s largest single employer and an internationally renowned research university and academic health center; its professional schools and specialty patient-care programs are consistently ranked among the nation’s top 50. UAB is the largest academic medical center in Alabama and one of the top four largest academic medical centers in the United States. UAB’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science is advancing innovative discoveries for better health as a two-time recipient of the prestigious Center for Translational Science Award. Find more information at www.uab.edu and www.uabmedicine.org.
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