Genomics lab opens for public tour, facilitates targeted therapies for cancer patients

ST. GEORGE – Physicians and patients fighting cancer have a new weapon in their arsenal. The Precision Genomics Laboratory at Intermountain Healthcare combines cutting-edge science and state-of-the-art equipment to identify the causes of cancer at a genetic level.

The lab opened a year ago and began the work of processing tissue samples from cancer patients all over the country. In June, Precision Genomics was given a new larger home allowing for more samples to be processed and providing ample room for research. To mark this milestone, the public is invited to attend an open house Tuesday from 1-3 p.m. Visitors will be able to tour the facility, 272 S. 1470 East in St. George, and learn about the complex process of gene-sequencing.

“At the beginning of 2015, President Obama had a precision medicine initiative that he unveiled and he recognized Intermountain as one of the cutting-edge entities that were doing good work and advancing precision medicine,” said Bonnie Char Hallman, communications specialist for the lab. “Essentially what it is, is customizing treatments based on someone’s DNA. So it makes it personalized medicine.”

The gene-sequencing process begins with a tissue sample. The sample is processed to break out the needed material for testing.

“What we have left is just the DNA,” Laboratory Manager David Loughmiller said. “What we’re looking for are just those genes that have been found to be related to the tumors that are located in solid tissue.”

Once those genes are isolated, scientists at the lab look for mutations. Those mutations, once identified, can be targeted for treatment. This specific targeting is gene therapy.

“Once they target that therapy to that particular gene, the tumors tend to shrink,” Loughmiller said. “The tumor cells tend to die off and that’s really what it’s all about. It’s not a cure but it does help shrink those tumors and provide a better quality of life for the patient.”

The precision therapy provides another option for stage 4 cancer patients who have exhausted every other treatment method. With gene therapy they lived as much as 1½ years longer than they would have without it, Loughmiller said.

Precision Genomics processes tissue from solid tumors only. Loughmiller said the team is planning to expand their work to include liquid tumors, giving physicians genetic information to fight diseases such as lymphoma and leukemia.

Support from the community was essential in creation of the laboratory. Hallman said some of the equipment used in the lab was purchased via the Jubilee of Trees fundraiser last year.

“So the laboratory has been a big beneficiary of the generosity of the community of Southern Utah,” she said.

Event details

  • What: Precision Genomics Laboratory Open House
  • When: Tuesday, Oct. 13 1-3 p.m.
  • Where: Rim Rock Plaza, 272 S. 1470 East, Suite 201, St. George


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