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HealthPartners seeks 100,000 volunteers to participate in DNA testing program

Testing would look for the following: Familial Hypercholesterolemia, Lynch Syndrome, and BRCA 1 and 2.

ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. — Have you ever wanted to know more about your DNA, but couldn’t afford testing? Now there’s a way to get your genomic data for free, and potentially help move health care science forward.

Leslie Dockan’s day job is the Vice President of Operations for Primary Care Clinical Services and Laboratories at HealthPartners. She’s also a sister and sister-in-law. All those identities collided in the last couple of years when her sister-in-law Michelle had her genome sequenced.

"She was able to get information back that she was positive for BRCA-2," Dockan said. That’s a gene mutation that can put you at risk for ovarian and breast cancer.

A couple years later, her sister Teki was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"On one hand my sister-in-law had access to genetic testing and had been able to understand that she had risks," Dockan said. "My sister did not have access to those types of testing and then found out she was at Stage IV."

Dockan said her sister can only manage the disease now, while her sister-in-law was able to take steps to mitigate her risk of developing cancer.

It’s stories just like her family, that make Leslie eager to share about HealthPartners recent partnership with Helix – a genomics company based out of California.

"There are things that are within our control and things that aren't within our control," she said. "What we want to do is to be able to offer anyone whose curious if they have a high-risk for some hereditary cancer or other diseases that we can offer then genetic screenings free of charge."

She said they want to be able to allow people that choice if they're interested. They hope to get 100,000 volunteer participants over four years. Dockan said testing would look for the following that have a Tier 1 designation.

That Tier 1 designation means "those having significant potential for positive impact on public health based on available evidence-based guidelines and recommendations" according to the CDC. HealthPartners is interested mainly in researching Familial Hypercholesterolemia, which can put you at risk for potential heart disease, Lynch Syndrome, hereditary colon cancer, and BRCA 1 and 2.

"I think to try to bring that to people is very powerful," Dockan said. "Up to this point generic testing has been out of reach for a lot of individuals because it's very expensive." When you couple that with health care costs, it can become a barrier.

"A BRCA-1 test alone can cost $2,600 if you're doing that through your insurance. You have to pay for that and a lot of that is covered if there is clinical need, but as we're doing this work because it is part of a research study we can offer it free," Dockan said.  

She said part of this research is proving that by doing these tests early you can reduce health care costs in the future and therefore it should be covered by insurance. Testing could be something networks do for individuals as a part of a preventative screening.

This is a chance to push science forward, learn more about your own health, and impact your families, Dockan said.

"I've not had the testing myself, so this will be something that I will be first in line to participate when we launch," she said.

The launch is May 2. Dockan said this is for anyone who is a HealthPartners patient and 18 or older. If you want more information, keep checking this website, where Dockan said they will post updates as they get closer to launch and after.

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