RENO, Nev. (AP) - Jordan Stiteler joined thousands of other Nevada residents in a DNA testing program known as the Healthy Nevada Project to verify her Swedish ancestry.
But the 29-year-old Reno resident instead found out how important genetic testing can be in catching potentially big health problems early, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported earlier this month.
Stiteler was one of 83 study participants who had an inherited genetic disorder that made them more prone to suffering heart attacks at a younger age.
Her inherited disorder, familial hypercholesterolemia or FH, is one of three genomics conditions classified by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “Tier 1” for their potential impact to greatly improve public health if identified and treated at their early stages.
Hypercholesterolemia adversely impacts the body’s ability to recycle low-density lipoproteins or LDL - more commonly known as bad cholesterol. People who suffer from the condition can end up with higher LDL levels even when eating a healthy diet, putting them at increased risk for developing coronary heart disease from the high levels of plaque that build up in their arteries.
Dr. Christopher Rowan, a cardiologist and medical director of research at the Renown Institute of Health Innovation, described the results from the Renown Health and Desert Research Institute joint project as a game changer, not just for diagnosing and treating some of society’s more pressing diseases but preventing them before they turn into full-blown health problems.
“Before, physicians were the gatekeepers of testing and screening,” Rowan said. “Genetic testing can be done by anybody, and the results can be brought (to their doctors). It’s the democratization of health care.”
Hypercholesterolemia typically is found more commonly among French Canadians, Lebanese, Finnish and Afrikaners from South Africa, according to the National Institutes of Health. The condition was traditionally thought to affect 1 in 500 people. Newer research, however, shows that the incidence is higher, said Joe Grzymski, associate research professor at the Desert Research Institute, which is analyzing the data collected from the Healthy Nevada Project.
“Now we know it’s much closer to 1 in 200,” Grzymski said.
In addition to providing recommendations to affected study participants for treating hypercholesterolemia and lowering the risks from the condition, the Healthy Nevada Project will offer free genetic testing to their family members. Known as “cascade screening,” this will help verify if close relatives have the inherited genetic defect as well, Rowan said.
The initial study attracted 10,000 participants in the first two days. In March 2018, the Healthy Nevada Project announced the second phase of its testing for an additional 40,000 participants.
To register for testing or find out more information about the Healthy Nevada Project, go to HealthyNV.org.
Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com
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