WellSpan moves to use genetic data in patient care

(WHTM) — The future of genetic testing is coming to WellSpan. The health system is launching a program that will use DNA information to better predict patients’ health. Doctors said the program is revolutionary.

Dr. David Kann, WellSpan’s Precision Medicine Medical Director, says the health system’s work provides a public service, and, “This program is truly going to revolutionize how we do that.”

The program aims to make genetic data a standard part of patient care.

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“We do know that we are going to find at least two or three thousand people with heart disease or cancer,” Kann said.

WellSpan is partnering with Helix, a company that sequences DNA to get genetic data that can influence your health.

“[Genetics] that bucket of risk represents something like 20 to 40 percent of all risk, but has been very hard for health systems to access,” CEO James Lu said.

Lu explained patients opt in to this program by providing a blood or saliva sample.

“We then take that specimen, either it’s blood or saliva, and turn it into DNA and then we put that through our instruments and then we generate the data on the backside,” he said.

The genetic data will then be shared with the patient and their doctor.

“That will enable us to prevent many kinds of cancer and many kinds of heart disease,” Kann said.

The program is starting by focusing on three inherited conditions: a form of hereditary high cholesterol, breast and ovarian cancer, and Lynch syndrome, another cancer-causing disease. This technology could have even broader implications.

“Cardiac conditions, cancer conditions, diabetes, etc. All of these which have genetic modifiers,” Lu said.

This program could also create positive health impacts for generations to come.

“Not only do you prevent heart disease and cancer in the patients that you study, but then you also learn about their offspring and their offspring,” Kann said.

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The program does not just help with prevention. It can help with diagnosis, predicting health outcomes, and even treatment.

“Genetics changed what we actually thought about what we were seeing with the patient in front of us,” Dr. Anwar Chahal, Director of the Center for Inherited Cardiovascular Diseases. “That can actually change your treatment.”

The future could be even more promising.

“There will be many diseases that we will be able to cure,” Kann predicts.

WellSpan hopes to collect samples from at least 100,000 patients. They also plan to use the data to look at community health as a whole, but Helix said community data will not have any identifying information which researchers could link to individual patients. Patients also have to give permission for their information to be used.

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“Every single step of this is consented for to make sure patients are okay, both with clinical use as well as research use,” Lu said.