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CDC Wants Near-term Public Health Genomics Plans

By Matt Jones

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants to find out what the primary goals and activities should be during the next five years for applying genomics in public health that would generate measurable outcomes.

CDC's Office of Public Health Genomics (OPHG) has released a request for comments in which it asks what these near-term public health priority efforts should be, how they should be pursued, and what groups and agencies should be involved.

"We're trying to get information to help focus the energy of public health genomics over the next five years," OPHG Director Muin Khoury told GenomeWeb Daily News this week.

The RFI is asking for ideas not for research, but for projects that will use genomics to have real effects on public health. Khoury said the agency is looking for "low-hanging fruit" projects that could include projects that help save lives, help save unnecessary health costs, or both."

OPHG surveys and engages in a wide range of public health-focused genomics areas, such as the role of family health history in chronic disease prevention, genetic testing evaluation systems, translating genomics into public health research, and the use of genomics in disease prevention programs.

"We're asking for input, in terms of the most important activities to be done. And trying to figure out what are both the barriers and the opportunities to accomplish these goals," Khoury said.

Specifically, OPHG is asking the genomics and public health community to provide answers to the following questions:

- What are the most important activities that should be carried out by the public health system over the next five years to apply genomic knowledge to public health goals?

- What outcomes specific to public health might be achieved by carrying out these activities?

- What policies are needed to achieve those outcomes?

- What institutions, organizations, and agencies need to participate in achieving these outcomes and what roles should they play?

- What barriers are anticipated in achieving these outcomes and how might they best be overcome?

OPHG's effort follows other similar initiatives. In 2011 the World Health Organization launched the Grand Challenges in Genomics for Public Health in Developing Countries program, which seeks to develop a list of the top 10 priorities for the development of genomics-based interventions for public health in developing countries.

And in March 2011, the National Human Genome Research Institute issued a strategic plan to chart a course for accelerating the translation of genomic discoveries into clinical applications.

Khoury told GWDN that these international and US efforts to begin finding ways to apply genomics in health now make it the right time to engage with the genomics and public health communities for direction.

"The OPHG program has done any number of things over the last 13 years, and we're taking stock, given what's going on around us, to re-energize and refuel and go forward," he said.

The outcomes OPHG are looking for will be measures "in terms of impact – health impact," he said. "We're not looking for outcomes in terms of discoveries – such as the hottest marker for cardiovascular disease or cancer – because these things are being discovered right and left."

But if there are public health actions to be taken, OPHG wants to know "what kinds of measurable outcomes in terms of morbidity, illness, or death, or saving unnecessary costs," the projects will seek to generate.

"If there was some action, what would be the return on investment on that action?"
The comment period for the RFI ends on Aug. 1.

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