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OHSU Human Genetics Initiative turns five!

A look back and what's ahead for further integrating genetics work at OHSU

The OHSU Human Genetics Initiative (HGI) was created in 2006 to improve research resources and educational programs in the burgeoning field of genetics. The key elements of the HGI were strategic investments in new faculty, advanced technology, and training of a new generation of health care professionals in genetics.

The HGI got off the ground with a School of Medicine commitment of $1.15 million including additional investments from OCTRI and the Office of the Vice President for Research.

Since its inception, the HGI has partnered with other units across campus to improve genetics research and training. “The fundamental premise of HGI is to bring together expertise and resources in a collaborative framework so that the potential benefit to human health is maximized,” said Susan Hayflick, MD, Professor and Chair, Department of Molecular & Medical Genetics.

Expanding campus expertise in and access to statistical genetics and genetic epidemiology “human capital” was an early goal, supported by cross-departmental collaborative faculty recruitments. HGI was instrumental in the recruitment of Amanda Vinson, PhD, in partnership with the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) and the Department of Molecular & Medical Genetics, and also of Lucia Carbone, PhD, in partnership with the ONPRC, the Department of Behavioral Neuroscience and the Department of Molecular & Medical Genetics.

Dr. Susan HayflickHGI has contributed to the collaborative framework that has developed the Integrated Genomics Laboratories which included the acquisition of new genomics technologies (Illumina + Solexa), as well as the development of a sustainable organizational and financial structure to accommodate these emerging technologies – including researcher access and services.

“I am particularly proud of the HGI role in forming the Rare Disorders Research Consortium which has as one of its central goals linking investigators to both other investigators and to patients,” said Dr. Hayflick. The Consortium includes developing a database of funding opportunities and highlighting OHSU’s unique strength in rare disorders research in national forums.

An ongoing initiative is to integrate genetics into health care delivery in ways that reflect its central role in health and disease. HGI has helped to develop new genetics services now delivered through the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute and the Department of Molecular & Medical Genetics for breast, colon and ovarian cancer genetics, and has strengthened neurogenetics services, including diagnostic testing, counseling and consultation for people with genetic neurological disease delivered within the OHSU Movement Disorders Program.

“Looking ahead, we are focused on developing novel education programs that integrate genetics training into all stages of medical education,” said Dr. Hayflick. “Genetics is an essential element of personalized healthcare, and all physicians will need a grounding in its application to their own practice. The HGI will help meet those diverse needs.”

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