WNY Genome Project and What It Means to You

Imagine being able to examine your genetic makeup to determine if you are likely to develop a disease. Imagine being able to receive treatment and medication designed specifically for you in the most effective dose.

One of the most important aspects of modern medicine is genetics, or the science of genes and heredity and what makes us different from one another. The genetic makeup (genome) for one individual is the entirety of that person’s hereditary information.  Now imagine the ability to compile and analyze the genome of an entire community to examine the predispositions of its members to common diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus or hypertension (high blood pressure).

In December Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) was granted $5.1 million by Governor Cuomo to lead a project that will do just that, and Donald L. Trump, MD, RPCI President and CEO, is thrilled. He predicts, “The RPCI Genome Project will significantly enhance our ability to develop personalized, more effective medical care plans and treatments for citizens of Western New York and beyond, but it is just a beginning.” 

Dr. Trump explains, “The project will begin with cancer, where we already have experience and infrastructure, including a large database of individuals. One goal is to individualize and personalize treatments. For example, anticoagulant drugs may be dosed differently based on how each individual metabolizes the drug. Another is tamoxifen, a well-documented drug for breast cancer prevention. We need to determine which patients are most likely to benefit from specific drugs and determine appropriate individualized dosages to minimize side effects. Ultimately, the goal is to expand our capability well past cancer and develop effective and customized treatments for all individuals.”

With this pilot funding, 1,000 area residents will be asked to donate a blood sample and provide detailed medical information. Patients’ privacy will be fully protected and their data will not be shared with insurance companies or serve as a basis for denying coverage based on their predisposition to a disease. In fact, only the health care provider and the individual themselves will have access to the information.

So what else is so exciting about the project? Dr. Trump says, “It will mean many jobs for Western New Yorkers, significantly boosting our economy.” Meanwhile, recruitment for a Project leader is underway, and people with cancer expertise, data collection and analysis will also be needed. Dr. Trump adds, “We also know that it will attract more money to our region, as happened with the genome project in Tampa, Florida at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, where the Merck Pharmaceutical company invested $100 million in a similar endeavor.”

So why was Western New York selected? Dr. Trump says it’s because of our region’s cutting-edge science and technology, broad partnerships with many constituents, and the potential for job growth and economically rewarding partnerships.

Dr. Trump and Deputy Director Candace Johnson, PhD, will lead the RPCI Genome Project as Co-Principal Investigators. Partners include the University at Buffalo, Kaleida Health, the Catholic Health System, Erie County Medical Center, HealthNow/BlueCross BlueShield, Independent Health, Univera Healthcare, The P2 Collaborative and HEALTHeLINK. For more information visit roswellpark.org, call 1-877-ASK-RPCI or send an email inquiry to askrpci@roswellpark.org.