Nevada-based health system Renown Health has joined with the environmental sciences organization Desert Research Institute (DRI) and personal genetics company 23andMe to launch a community-based population health study pilot that will combine health, population, genetic, and environmental data to help model public health risks.
The study, which is open to the first 5,000 Nevadans that qualify, will leverage de-identified health data from Renown, environmental data from DRI, and the genetic information of volunteers, with the aim of better understanding the combination of genetic and epigenetic risk factors that lead to disease and illness.
“This collaboration addresses one of the fundamental tensions in medicine—which is more important, nature or nurture?” said Anthony Slonim, M.D., DrPH, CEO and president of Renown Health. “Clearly, both are important, and by combining Renown's de-identified health data, such as 300,000 health histories that are five years or longer and patient population demographics, with other determinants, like social and environment, we can begin to better understand the health and healthcare needs of the people and communities we serve.”
Genotyping services for the 5,000 volunteers will be provided by 23andMe, which will provide both genetic data and health-related survey responses to the project. All volunteers for the research will be provided with their individual genetic information, which includes more than 65 reports on each individual’s health, traits and ancestry, at no cost.
“We see this as an innovative approach to population health that will benefit Nevadans, and could serve as a model for other states,” said Andy Page, president of 23andMe. “It's exciting to have Renown and DRI, leaders in healthcare and research, come together for a comprehensive study of this scale, and to see such a great application of our Genotyping Services for Research platform.”
The ultimate goal is to use the pilot study model to build the necessary testing and data infrastructure needed to enroll all of the state’s nearly 2.8 million residents. Such a database could allow researchers to build predictive models and identify significant health risks that cut across multiple demographic variables including age, race, income, and geographic location. The data could also be used to better understand community health, individual health, and the variables associated with chronic diseases and co-morbidities.
“We will begin to understand how environmental factors can help predict who may be at risk, allow for quicker diagnoses, and encourage the development of more precise treatments,” said Joseph Grzymski, Ph.D., senior director of DRI’s Applied Innovation Center and principal investigator of the study. “That understanding, combined with the information we will deliver back to study participants, are the first steps toward a future where access to your personal health data will contribute to a higher overall quality of life for all Nevadans.”
Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval announced that he is one of the first participants in the program and sees it as a significant opportunity for his state’s residents.
“Renown's forward-thinking approach to community healthcare, combined with DRI's data and environmental expertise, will create incredible potential for new scientific discoveries and encourage citizens just like myself to take a proactive role in self-care and ultimately change the way we think about our health moving forward,” Sandoval said.