Highlands Hospital plans to offer genetic testing

By Cindy Ekas | Published in The Daily Courier on April 3

Highlands Hospital is moving ahead to offer genetic testing to patients that will allow them to find out what medications will specifically work to combat their illnesses.

Guest speaker Nick Jacobs of SunStone Management Resources explained the program last week during his talk titled “The Healthy Highlands Community.” It was presented during a Dinner and Dialogue event sponsored by Downtown Connellsville, an initiative of the Fayette County Cultural Trust.

Jacobs, a Dickerson Run native, talked about what Highlands Hospital can do well and what “it can bring to the community.”

In about a year, Highlands Hospital will launch a “pharmacogenomics program that is designed to provide genetic testing that can help to unlock what your body needs to feel better, faster,” Jacobs said.

He explained that pharmacogenomics is the study of how genes affect a person’s response to drugs. The relatively new field combines pharmacology –– the science of drugs –– and genomics –– the study of genes and their functions –– to develop effective, safe medications and doses that will be tailored to a person’s genetic makeup, according to Jacobs.

Jacobs said that many drugs that are currently available don’t work the same way for everyone suffering from a certain disease.

“It can be difficult to predict who will benefit from a medication, who will not respond at all and who will experience adverse side effects,” Jacobs said.

Adverse drug reactions are a significant cause of hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S., according to the National Institute of Health.

Jacobs said researchers are learning how inherited differences in genes affect the body’s response to medications. These genetic differences will be used to predict whether a medication will be effective for a particular person and to help prevent adverse drug reactions.

Jacobs said pharmacogenomics will allow the development of tailored drugs to treat a wide range of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS and asthma.

“Of the 21,000 mapped genes in the body, we have about 300 of them that tell us how we metabolize medicine, food, etc.,” Jacobs said. “These genes will indicate how we will respond to medicines throughout our lives. It takes experimentation out of the equation. It protects us from harmful prescriptions.”

Jacobs said the current test costs about $300.

“By having the test done, you will find out what specific medications will work for your condition,” he said. “Some of those illnesses include heart disease, diabetes and cancer to name a few.”

Jacobs is currently serving as the founder and trustee of the Clinical and Translational Genome Research Institute in Fort Myers, Fla., and is a consultant to the Department of Defense in breast cancer research.

Jacobs hold Master Degrees in both Education and Public Management Administration/Health Systems Management from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon University. He has completed his certification in Health Systems Management from Harvard University and is a fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives.

A Pittsburgh resident, Jacobs has written two books and is currently a partner in SunStone Management Resources. He speaks both nationally and internationally on Integrative Medicine, Next Generation Genetic Research, the Future of Medicine and Leadership Change.

Cindy Ekas is the Daily Courier editor. She can be reached at 724-628-2000, ext. 115, or cekas@dailycourier.com.