FORTY FORT — Geisinger Health System announced plans Thursday to build a treatment and research center that tailors care to patients’ DNA.
At 190 Welles St., the Geisinger Genomic Medicine Center would be the first facility of its kind in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
The center will feature a state-of-the-art program called “telegenomics,” which utilizes audio/video and information technology to provide personalized treatment to anyone with an Internet connection. Geisinger said the program, a spin-off of telemedicine, will be the first of its kind.
“This is the center that we’ll work out of to treat patients across Geisinger, across the region, across the country, and hopefully across the world,” said Michael Murray, director of Clinical Genomics at Geisinger.
The benefits of genomics — defined by Geisinger as the study of an individual’s DNA to predict and prevent medical conditions — lie in diagnosis, treatment and prevention, Murray said.
He said physicians encountering medical problems outside known patterns might refer the individual to the proposed Forty Fort clinic, presumably from anywhere in the world. Patients seeking second opinions might use the facility as well.
Geneticists at the site would then sequence and interpret the patient’s genetic code. Interpretation of the code, Murray said, can help identify an “undiagnosed disease.”
He said sequencing can also highlight pre-dispositions to conditions such as cancer or heart disease, and can help avoid otherwise unforeseeable surgical complications.
“Genomics is a very useful tool to sort of get to the bottom of that,” he said.
Useful new tool
Physicians could then deliver results and counseling remotely, without the patient ever stepping foot in the Forty Fort center, Geisinger said.
While the study traditionally focused on rare diseases, said Monica Giovanni, director of Clinical Genomics Strategy, recent advances in the field have reduced costs, allowing insight into the “genetic underpinning” of common issues as well.
“It’s mirroring the cost of an MRI,” Giovanni said. “So this is a new tool that can be applied across all fields of medicine.”
The new clinic will sit adjacent to the Geisinger Partners in Pediatrics and Geisinger Fetal Medicine offices. Giovanni said she thinks the location will prove beneficial and advantageous.
“It really allows the opportunity to offer care across the lifespan,” she said.
The human genetic sequence contains 20,000 genes, Murray said, of which science currently understands about 1,000.
As a field, Murray said, genomics is still in its infancy and will continue to mature throughout the 21st century.
At least for the time being, patients will be accepted by referral only. The new facility, he joked, won’t be providing genomic urgent care quite yet.
“But someday,” he said, “maybe.”
Murray, a physician and geneticist, and Giovanni, a clinical investigator and genetic counselor, both worked in genomic medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Inside, the Forty Fort facility was still bare concrete and drywall Thursday, and Christine Kreamer of Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services said construction should start in about a month.
“Depending on paperwork,” she said.
The Geisinger Genomics Center derives $100,000 in funding from a Discovered in PA-Developed in PA grant.
According to Geisinger Health System, the 14,000-square-foot facility will cost $562,000. Its opening is planned for November. At full capacity, Geisinger expects the clinic will treat as many as 50 patients per week.
Geisinger operates in 44 counties throughout Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania, with hospitals in Plains Township, Wilkes-Barre and Scranton in Northeastern Pennsylvania.