Genetic data sought from 40,000 more Nevadans in phase 2 of Renown, DRI program |

Genetic data sought from 40,000 more Nevadans in phase 2 of Renown, DRI program

Sally Roberts
This rendering shows a simplification of the human DNA structure, the subject of a the Healthy Nevada Project phase 2 study, a partnership with Renown Health, Desert Research Institute and Helix.
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About the Healthy Nevada Project

Healthy Nevada Project researchers and data scientists combine genetic data with health and population data, as well as information from environmental databases, in an effort to identify and model public health risks, ranging from disease and illness to the effects of environmental factors such as air quality on the health of Nevadans.

The pilot phase of the study in September 2016 enrolled 10,000 participants in less than 48 hours and then completed subsequent DNA sample collection from each participant in just 60 working days.

Pilot participants ranged from ages 18-90 years old from 135 zip codes in Northern Nevada. Socioeconomic survey information was also collected during the pilot phase using an advanced, confidential online survey tool.

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RENO, Nev. — Renown Health announced Tuesday that it and the Desert Research Institute will embark on phase 2 of the Healthy Nevada Project in spring 2018, in partnership with the genetic sequencing company Helix.

The research teams are planning to gather DNA and genetic data from an additional 40,000 Nevadans in phase 2 — including an increased focus on children and family groups — compared to the pilot program pool in 2016 of 10,000 people.

“This time, we’re saying bring your father, mother, brother, sister, cousin, uncle and aunt with you; families together,” Renown Health CEO/President Anthony Slonum said in an interview this week with the NNBW.

By comparing genomes of family members, researches expect to gain a better understand of the genetic markers of disease that are passed down in families, and to give individuals insights into their own genetic risks for certain diseases

“From the beginning, our focus with the Healthy Nevada Project has been on delivering personalized health data to our communities that will ultimately drive positive change for our state,” Slonim said in a Tuesday statement. “We are very excited about the opportunities the next phase of this groundbreaking study will offer. Community participants will be able to gain deeper, actionable insights into their DNA data, while our research teams gain unprecedented access to the largest clinical DNA sequencing facility in the world.”

During the pilot program that was announced in September 2016, Renown and DRI partnered with 23andMe to provide the DNA testing.

Slonim — who’s also president of the Renown Institute for Health Innovation (Renown IHI) — noted that the data from 23andMe provided dramatic insights into genetics and disease.

However, advances in the art of sequencing make Helix’s state-of-the-art process a better fit for the phase 2 research, he said.

Unlike other companies that use DNA microarray technology, Helix uses proprietary Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) to sequence a portion of the genome called Exome+ that provides 100 times more data than was previously available with standard gene sequencing. Exome+ includes all 22,000 protein-coding genes as well as additional regions known to be of interest.

Helix sequences each participant’s DNA sample once, and then securely stores that information so the user can choose to explore many DNA-powered applications throughout their lifetime.

“Our pilot phase used genotyping, which was a great start, but moving to exome sequencing and inviting an additional 40,000 people to participate will dramatically accelerate what we can learn about the human genome and has the potential to greatly improve preventative health and create incredible potential for new scientific discoveries,” Joseph Grzymski, Ph.D., an associate research professor at DRI, co-director of Renown IHI, and principal investigator of the Healthy Nevada Project, said in a statement.

For phase 2, the Healthy Nevada Project will offer study participants a free DNA kit from Helix that provides information on personal traits and ancestry, and a account that will enable them to explore additional DNA-powered products through the Helix App store if they choose.

Each person can access one app free of charge; open enrollment is scheduled to begin sometime this spring, according to Renown.