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Renown, DRI & governor's office partner to offer DNA testing for population health study

A free DNA collection kit will be offered to the first 5,000 Nevadans who volunteer for a population health study (Photo courtesy 23andMe)

Several groups, including Renown Health and Gov. Brian Sandoval's office, are partnering to launch the country's first community-based population health studies.

The study will involve genetics company 23andMe and the Desert Research Institute, according to a statement from Renown.

"When you're making history, and you're in the moment. You don't realize it. This is one of those days that we'll look back and say, 'That was it.' This is a day that we changed the community. We changed the state. We changed this nation. We changed the world," said Gov. Brian Sandoval. "This isn't going on anywhere else, not just in the United States but anywhere in the world. It really is something that I'm really proud of and look forward to seeing the community react to it."

Sandoval is talking about the first of its kind genetic testing that analyzes your genetic makeup and how your environment affects your health. Organizers are saying that this could improve the lives of all Nevadans.

"We know that we don't rank so well across the nation. We know that we have a high-cost state for healthcare, and our quality isn't the best it can be," said Anthony Slonim, CEO and President of Renown Health.

The team started collaborating early this past summer and got the ball rolling quickly.

Renown's Slonim met with Sandoval and opened a discussion on how to improve the lives of residents in the Silver State. DRI and 23andMe later joined in on the project.

Researchers say genetic testing tells you the health conditions you're at risk for. The data collected can help discover ground-breaking health drugs and help determine precise medical solutions.

"And how can this state make decisions on the chemical in the environment and say, 'Are there things that we should change?' To make sure that everybody is actually healthier and not getting diseases. That we're not just trying always to treat it, but we're actually trying to stay healthy, as long as possible," said Anne Wojcicki, CEO of 23andMe.

"A lot of healthcare advice because is so generic is not as meaningful to people," she said. "But if you make it personalized and say, 'Oh, it's in your DNA. You have this family history; you really need to do x, y and z.' I think then, people really respond to it, and they start to be more proactive about, What am I eating? Am I exercising? Where am I living? How am I sleeping? And following up with a doctor."

The first 10,000 Northern Nevadans who applied will have the chance to volunteer for research at no cost. Initially, the plan was to enroll 5,000 people in the study. Renown officials announced Friday that the number of participants was doubled due to overwhelming public interest.

While officials have closed open enrollment for this study, anyone who is still interested in participating can sign up for the waiting list.

The spit test DNA kit on its own is valued at $199. To qualify, you have to be 18, a Nevada resident and a patient at Renown Health.

Researchers would receive volunteers' genetic information, which can be reviewed and combined with health and population data to analyze and model public health risks.

Volunteers will receive genetic service from 23andMe, which would include more than 65 personalized genetic reports on their health, traits and ancestry. Sandoval was one of the first participants.

To learn more about the study and to volunteer, visit partners.renown.org or call (775) 982-6914.

For those concerned about genetic information privacy, Wojcicki said that volunteers would be protected.

"There's the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act, which is federal legislation that prevents genetic information from being used against you by insurance companies and by your employers. I think that the more and more you start to have programs like this, you start to see genetic information has a huge potential value to enable to pioneer revolutionary ideas in healthcare. And we need to protect the privacy if we want to realize all the benefits of genetics."

Researchers will broadly look across your entire genome to help understand drug response or understand disease risk, things like Alzheimer's. As of now, this cannot detect if you will have diseases such as breast cancer, which requires sequencing testing; this project is genotype testing.

DRI scientists will analyze health risks ranging from disease and illness to the effects of air quality on the health of Nevadans.

The entire project is estimated to cost $2 million. The funding is coming from the Governor's Office of Economics Development, Renown Health Foundation and Desert Research Institute.

The pilot study is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

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