Known for its contributions in research and basic science, HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology in Huntsville also has a mission to bring that new knowledge to patient care.
"For precision medicine to advance, we have to make the tools of genomics and genetics accessible to a broad range of clinical settings. When you go beyond academic medical centers, it is difficult to find the infrastructure and expertise needed to bring the full potential of genomic medicine to patient care," Devin Absher, PhD, director of genomic health for HudsonAlpha Health Alliance, said.
Physicians are usually too busy caring for patients to find the time to become experts in a whole new field of knowledge. Hospitals also tend to have other priorities rather than going to the expense of building their own genomics program from the ground up. Instead, they need access to expertise and support services from a source they can trust. That's what the HudsonAlpha Health Alliance offers.
"It's more than a lab for testing," said Absher, who also does research in the epigenetics of complex disorders. "We offer consultation for clinical decision support, genetic counselors and educators who can advise patients, and pharmacists with training in pharmacogenetics who can discuss alternatives when tests indicate a patient might not metabolize a certain medication well."
In addition to providing the genomic capabilities to help hospitals and physician groups quickly ramp up to practice the precision medicine of the future, the Health Alliance also works with self insured companies, businesses that offer employee health and wellness programs, and population groups.
"In September we presented a joint report with East Alabama Medical Center at the Southeast Regional Health Conference on our collaboration with their employee health program," Absher said. "The initial focus of our work has been pharmacogenetics. We've helped to identify medications that aren't a good match so their employees can avoid the expense and potential side effects of a drug that isn't working. By looking at their genome, we may be able to suggest a choice that is more likely to be effective."
The Health Alliance has recently begun working with the Muscogee Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The Muscogee have founded their own hospital and are working to bring state of the art advances in care to their people.
"The HudsonAlpha Health Alliance bundles a suite of services that can be customized to the particular needs of our collaborators," Absher said. "Some unknown or difficult to diagnose diseases may require full genome sequencing to detect the variant that is driving the disorder. We can also screen for specific genes that indicate a higher risk of clinically actionable diseases like breast cancer and ovarian cancer. In population groups, we can also look for variants that could put individuals who have genes in common at higher risk for heritable disorders."
One of the resources the alliance offers physicians and patients is their secure, HIPPA-compliant Genomics Gateway. Physicians can order tests, review results, and consult with a clinical geneticist or genetic pharmacist.
Responses to more than 100 medications are known to be influenced by the patient's genome. These drugs range from blood thinners to statins, antidepressants and antianxiety drugs and some types of chemotherapy. That information can also be directly inserted into electronic records.
"We also offer genetic education and certified genetic counselors that can answers patients' questions and help them understand what their results mean," Absher said.
Learning about genomic health early can inform a patient's care for their lifetime, improving the odds that they will be able to enjoy more years with a better quality of life.
HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology is also partnering with UAB in the Alabama Genomic Health Initiative, a statewide effort to provide free genetic screening for certain diseases in the general population.
To learn more about the HudsonAlpha Health Alliance and the genomic and genetic services it offers, go to www.hudsonalpha.org/alliance