ST.GEORGE – When Tasha Borget participated in a genetics research project at the lab inside Intermountain St. George Regional Hospital, she believed her contribution would mean more than only the healthcare answers she needed.
The 30-year-old never knew her father. As a result, there are many holes in her family medical history.
“I always have those questions. Working in the medical field, I could make a huge difference knowing that,” Borget said.
By participating in HerediGene: Population Study, the largest healthcare genomics study from a single population, there was an indirect benefit for Borget, her family, and generations of people across the globe. Genetics research is critical for advancing early detection of diseases and discovering new treatments.
“This study gave me the opportunity to learn if there are any underlying medical conditions that contribute to my health,” she said after donating about two-and-a-half teaspoons of blood to the lab caregiver. “Whether I get results back or not, I know I am contributing to the research that can make solutions a possibility for people in the future. I think that’s something we can all do as citizens for a healthier community.”
The lab collection site in St. George was the first of many HerediGene testing sites opening at Intermountain hospitals and clinics throughout Utah and Idaho. Borget’s sample is one of almost 60,000 samples already collected for the HerediGene: Population Study since it launched in June 2019 aiming for 500,000 samples.
“We’re mapping the genomes of participants to directly impact their care,” Dr. Lincoln Nadauld, Intermountain’s vice president and chief of precision health and academics and the study’s principal investigator said. “We want to know if you’re at risk of cancer or cardiovascular disease. We want to help you avoid those conditions. We want to predict what healthcare events might happen and we want to prevent those from happening, for you and for future generations.”
Nadauld is a medical oncologist at the St. George Cancer Center and, along with Gary Stone, assistant vice president of precision health and academics at Intermountain Healthcare, founded Intermountain Precision Genomics (IPG) located on the third floor of the building. Recently, Nadauld’s work in healthcare, science and technology was recognized for the Pioneers of Progress Awards.
“HerediGene is my baby,” he said. “If you’re at risk for some kind of illness or disease, let’s not wait until it shows up. Let’s be predictive. Let’s intervene. Let’s be proactive. Let’s be preventative. Let’s do something so you never have to experience that heart attack or that stroke or that advanced cancer. Let’s do something today so you are healthy tomorrow.”
His baby has put St. George on the world stage in a new way. While the coronavirus pandemic was introduced in 2020, Fast Company recognized Intermountain Healthcare as the 8th most innovative biotechnological company in the world – thanks to IPG’s HerediGene: Population Study. It was a first for a health care organization to receive such a ranking and recognition.
Nadauld and Stone’s ambition to gather genetic data for healthcare professionals worldwide is unlike anything ever done before. To accomplish this study’s unique scope and scale, IPG is collaborating with a renowned Icelandic biotechnology company, deCODE genetics.
“You can be absolutely certain the clinical information from Intermountain is very high quality,” says Dr. Kári Stefánsson, CEO of deCODE genetics. “The goal of this study is to make discoveries about the nature of disease. This collaboration is to take current knowledge about the genetics of disease and the ones we discover going forward to make the delivery of healthcare at Intermountain better.”
Intermountain Healthcare’s president and CEO, Dr. Marc Harrison, identified precision genomics’ HerediGene efforts as one of the five models for value-based health care in a Harvard Business Review article. He even stopped by St. George in May to job shadow a precision genomics laboratory technician extracting DNA from HerediGene participants.
“The work that’s being done in St. George is incredibly important because it allows us to understand whether someone carries a genetic burden that predisposes them to something that we can do something about,” Harrison said. “Our investments in St. George and in this program are well-justified. They’re at the cutting edge allowing Intermountain to remain competitive with the rest of the world providing high-value care.”
Watch Dr. Harrison’s tour of IPG on YouTube here.
HerediGene is one of several IPG advanced services that translate research into innovative care such as TheraMap and RxMatch. Through genomic testing, health care providers can get right down to your DNA to find the path of care that may work best for you, helping to reduce costs while providing better experience overall.
Genomics is the study of how your DNA interacts within your body. Precision genomics takes this study a step further with doctors using genomic information to create more personalized health care options for people battling disease.
“[Precision Genomics] means picking treatments for patients with cancer based on DNA changes in their cancer,” Nadauld said.
And having more effective, personalized treatment plans mean a higher life expectancy, eliminating side effects from less effective medications, a more accurate prognosis and higher quality of life for patients and families.
For now, Borget’s sample has not produced results for a genetic condition that can be treated. Nadauld says only three percent of HerediGene’s anticipated half-million samples are expected to be contacted about results. Borget and several other HerediGene participants say getting your own results isn’t the point.
“My posterity will benefit,” Durward Wadsworth, 78, of Hurricane said.
“It may not change my life. But I sure hope it changes my grandkids’ lives,” Elissa Smith, 47, of Bountiful said. “I’m hoping they won’t have to watch me go through cancer.”
“You’re helping someone maybe get cured from cancer,” Elissa’s 15-year-old son, Craige, said. “If it could save one of my kids’ lives – why not?”
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Wayne Hartley, 69, of Cedar City said. “If they can identify (DNA) markers that would help our children and grandchildren or anybody’s children – and they need numbers – well, we’re glad to participate in that.”
Discoveries of new medicines and treatments while lowering healthcare costs is the altruistic goal.
“We could start to predict individuals in a population who might be at risk to get some forms of cancer or other individuals who might be at risk to have a heart attack or a stroke or to develop diabetes,” Nadauld said. “And if we can predict that, then maybe we can work with those individuals to prevent some of those things from happening.”
To participate and learn more about the HerediGene: Population Study, go online to HerediGene.org/ProtectYourHealth.