New clinical DNA screening program at Geisinger

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DANVILLE, MONTOUR COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – When you think about personal medical care, medications and checkups probably come to mind.  But Geisinger Health System is taking a much more personal approach. It launched a first of its kind program in the nation Tuesday morning. 

Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller was on hand at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville as a new clinical DNA screening program kicked off with a rather prolific first patient.

With two vials of blood drawn from his arm, Geisinger President and CEO Dr. David Feinberg, MD, MBA marked a first. He became the first patient for Geisinger’s new DNA sequencing program. The first 1,000 Geisinger employees covered by Geisinger Health Plan will participate in the free screening before the program expands to millions of Geisinger patients. Dr. Feinberg said, “I think this will become routine with every baby that’s born, that when you’re born you’ll have your DNA done.”

Blood tests will look for changes in 59 of the nearly 20,000 genes in the human body. “Do I have something genetic going on that we can know about and do something about?,” said Dr. Feinberg.

Those nearly five dozen genes in particular are good indicators if a person has a risk for such things as cancer or cardiovascular disease. Discovering mutations means taking intervention and it’s more than just medications and lifestyle changes. Dr. Feinberg said the findings through DNA sequencing could actually result in a pulling back on the use of certain medications.

Geisinger started its genome project in 2006 which includes the MyCode project and Precision Medicine Initiative.
DNA sequencing is the latest step in achieving a significant goal. Geneticist Christa Martin, Ph.D. who is Director of Geisinger’s Autism and Developmental Medicine Institute said, “Moving into clinical care we want to be able to help more patients so that we can prevent disease and keep our patients healthy rather than treating them when they are sick.”

David Ledbetter, Ph.D. serves as Geisinger’s Executive Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer. He believes the DNA sequencing will have implications far beyond the individual patient. “We think it’s really important for people to be aware that they can do something positive to reduce risk of significant disease, sometimes potentially lethal conditions, for their children and grandchildren,” said Dr. Ledbetter.

Dr. Feinberg expects roughly four percent of adult patients screened will discover a potentially disease-causing change in one of their 59 genes evaluated. A widespread rollout of Geisinger’s DNA screening is expected by the end of the year.
 

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