Kaiser Permanente Northwest Accelerates Focus on Genomic Research

Kaiser Permanente Northwest Accelerates Focus on Genomic Research

Center for Health Research builds on nationally recognized genetics experts to centralize translational and applied genomic research

Portland, OR – Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research (CHR) today announced the formation of a brand new department of Translational and Applied Genomics (TAG). Genomics is part of the rapidly emerging field of precision medicine, an approach to health care delivery that allows clinicians to tailor treatment to the unique characteristics of the patient.

While genetics is the study of individual genes (the DNA sequences that are passed down from parents to children), genomics addresses all genes, the interrelationships among them, and their combined impact on an individual’s development, disease risk, and response to certain types of treatment. Translational and applied genomic research is essential to understand when and how to implement new genomic discoveries into clinical practice based on scientific principles and evidence.

“Kaiser Permanente Northwest recognizes the importance of precision medicine for the future of clinical care, and translational and applied genomics is one of the key areas within this larger umbrella,” notes Dr. Lucy A. Savitz, PhD, MBA, Director of CHR and Vice President of Health Research at Kaiser Permanente Northwest. “We’ve been making investments to build this genomics program for nearly a decade, including infrastructure to establish our regional NW Biobank, our tissue repository, and our research laboratory. The development of this new department represents the culmination of these investments.”

“Kaiser Permanente Northwest is an outstanding place to conduct translational and applied genomics research,” adds Katrina Goddard, PhD, Distinguished Investigator at CHR and director of the new department. “Some of our strengths in this environment include the benefit of Kaiser’s leadership in population management and systems-based approaches, providing us access to a well-defined, community-based population that receives comprehensive medical care within a single system. We also have a close partnership with clinicians, with our research embedded within the delivery system.”

Goddard also seeks to use the TAG department to promote the science of genomics. “We will be able to more effectively raise awareness of the science supporting the application of genomics, not only to improve the lives of patients at KPNW, but also to inform the national landscape and bring new and innovative solutions that can be applied both within our setting and within other health care delivery systems.”

Investigators at CHR have been conducting work in genetics and genomics for over a decade, attracting more than $40 million in funding support for the cumulative research portfolio. The organization’s reputation for research program excellence and its national leadership in the field stems from several high-profile investigators and studies which explore the need to tailor genetic tests and treatments to specific groups and individuals and have led to the direct translation of genetic testing into clinical care.

TAG Leadership Team

The new department will be led by Goddard, a genetic epidemiologist who, since arriving at CHR in 2007, has built a strong national and international reputation of scientific leadership in translational and applied genomics.

Goddard, who also serves as the Associate Director of Science Programs at CHR, has directed or collaborated on over 25 federally funded research studies. In 2013 she received $8.1 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct a novel clinical trial using genome sequencing to evaluate expanded carrier screening among women and their partners who were planning a future pregnancy. Preconception carrier screening enables couples to understand the risks for their future offspring of rare genetic conditions.

Goddard was the founding Director of the NW Biobank, a repository of blood and tissue samples linked to comprehensive electronic medical records. She serves as one of nine PIs for NHGRI’s ClinGen Consortium, and the chair of the Steering Committee. She is also a board member of the American Society of Human Genetics and has previously served on the board for the International Genetic Epidemiology Society.

Investigator Jessica Ezzell Hunter, PhD, a genetic epidemiologist with training in molecular genetics, biostatistics, and neuropsychological outcomes, will serve as TAG’s Associate Director. Sheila Weinmann, PhD, MPH, an epidemiologist whose research focuses on cancer etiology, screening, and progression, with an emphasis on molecular epidemiology, is TAG’s Senior Investigator.

For more information, visit https://research.kpchr.org/Research/Research-Areas/Genetics-Genomics.