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Genomic Medicine Kicks Off

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Paul Billings has been named acting director and chief science officer of El Camino Hospital's new Genomic Medicine Institute, located in Mountain View, Calif. GT's Jeanene Swanson caught up with Billings to find out how he'll help launch the institute, which is supported by educational and Web-based tools from DNA Direct.

Genome Technolog
y: What clinical tests and therapies will GMI offer to patients? How does DNA Direct fit in?

Paul Billings: The institute has identified 10 areas of interest, and they include things like cardiology, gastroenterology, psychiatry, infectious diseases, OB/GYN — traditional areas of medical specialization. Within those areas the institute has now launched nine tests which include tests like BRCA1 and BRCA2, Oncotpye Dx, which it is offering to the community of physicians who work at El Camino. DNA Direct has created an enormous amount of support material [for] both physician and patient understanding of these tests and understanding of the results of the tests. They're a partner in basically all aspects of the fulfillment of these tests.

GT: How will patients be educated about these new tests and about how genomics information may affect their health and future health decisions?

PB: Education is absolutely essential to the appropriate application of all testing, but in particular, of newer forms of personalized medicine-type testing because the tests themselves are so personal. One of the things that attracted me to the Genomic Medicine Institute was how seriously they took that. The institute will, over the next year, sponsor and deliver some community activities that will educate people about, let's say, the genetics of cancer or the tests associated with drug responsiveness. The institute takes very seriously Web-based education, telephonic-based support via DNA Direct and other experts, and direct genetic counseling often facilitated by DNA Direct.

GT: What impact will GMI have on the standard of patient care in hospitals in the future?

PB: What we're hoping for is that we become a source of data about how the adoption of new tests is done appropriately, how they can lead to constructive outcomes for patients, for physicians, and for hospitals. And we hope to take an active part in the translation and evolution of genomic medicine within the community setting.

GT: How will patient privacy concerns be addressed?

PB: We support all existent federal and state standards that protect patient privacy and individuals who seek out genetic information from any discriminatory use of that information. We have established community boards and physician boards within the Genomic Medicine Institute to explore any either uncovered or novel ethical or legal or social issues that our programs may engender for our patients. And we will take whatever steps are necessary to not only support the legal protections, but extend them if necessary by policy within the institute.

GT: What should be the biggest concern for patients?

PB: I think the real potential worry for patients now is a misunderstanding of genetics. People believe that if someone has a genetic trait, that it's permanent and unmodifiable. The fact is, genes are modified by other genes, by environment, and by other factors that we're not even yet aware of. And so in very few instances are the results of a genetic test a hopeless curse.

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