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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

#HealthyPeachy HealthPartners Institute receives $3.2M grant from National Cancer Institute to create and study new tool that will improve care for patients with genetic risk of cancer

The project, which leverages HealthPartners myGenetics community research database, will help primary care clinicians provide the latest screening recommendations to patients with inherited breast, ovarian and colon cancer risks

About 1 million people in the United States have certain genes that significantly increase their risk of breast, ovarian and colon cancers. But it’s challenging for patients to be confident they are receiving recommended cancer screenings because guidelines frequently change as the medical community learns more about how to reduce the risk these genes confer.

HealthPartners Institute is working to change that with a $3.2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute. Its researchers will create a clinical decision support tool that will help care teams and patients with known genetic risks keep up to date with the latest cancer prevention and screening recommendations. The goal is to prevent cancers or catch cancers earlier to improve clinical outcomes and quality of life.

“Screening recommendations for these patients are quite a bit different than the screening recommendations for the general population, and they frequently change, which makes it challenging for patients and primary care teams to stay up-to-date with current recommendations,” said Dr. Patrick O’Connor, senior research investigator with HealthPartners Institute and lead researcher on the project. “We’re creating a tool that uses a variety of algorithms to identify current recommendations for each patient and help primary care teams provide these patients with the most up-to-date screenings.”

Clinical decision support: How it works

The clinical decision support tool will be embedded in the electronic health record. It will alert clinicians to patients who already have been found to have high inherited risk of breast, ovarian or colon cancer through the myGenetics program or other genetic screening. The decision support tool will remind each patient and their primary care clinician about the recommended treatment options that may reduce each patient’s risk of disease.

HealthPartners Institute has a long history of creating successful clinical decision support tools for other conditions like hypertension, diabetes and kidney disease. Its Wizard CDS tool has been used in more than 9 million visits on more that 2 million patients across multiple health systems in the country and has been shown to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease by more than 10 percent.

The new NCI-funded cancer screening study will involve 40 clinics across the HealthPartners system. Twenty clinics will be randomized to use the tool, while the other 20 clinics will receive the tool 18 months later. Researchers will then determine whether the tool increased appropriate screening and cancer prevention care among at-risk patients, and how patients and care teams like using the tool.

Making precision medicine actionable

Medical researchers have made significant discoveries in recent years about the relationship between genes, lifestyle behaviors, and disease risk. This interplay is called precision medicine and it’s already improving the way patients and their clinicians can identify, prevent and treat a variety of diseases.

However, this increasingly sophisticated ability to precisely quantify health risk and create tailored prevention and treatment plans will require new ways of organizing and presenting data so that it’s useful for care teams and easily understood by patients.

“When you look at the advances that are happening in the field of precision medicine, it’s truly impressive,” said O’Connor. “But there is a risk of information overload. That’s why we’re creating a system to help organize these data in a way that’s clear to patients so they can make informed decisions about treatment options that may be of benefit to them.”

myGenetics milestone

In May 2022, HealthPartners and genomics company Helix launched myGenetics, a voluntary, no-cost community health research program designed to help participants learn if they are at risk for heart disease, hereditary breast and ovarian cancer and certain types of colorectal cancer. Additionally, its vision was to create a genetics research database involving a large, diverse population that could be used to tailor healthcare and improve outcomes for several inherited conditions.

Since then more than 39,000 have enrolled to better understand their health, family history and support groundbreaking research that will improve care for everyone. This NCI-funded study marks the first federally funded research that leverages these data to improve care. Because the tool will be useful for patients who already know they are living with inherited risk factors, researchers hope it will spur enrollment in the genetics program – particularly among patients from diverse backgrounds who are less likely to be up to date on some cancer screenings.

To enroll in myGenetics, visit

About HealthPartners Institute

HealthPartners Institute is part of HealthPartners, a nonprofit organization with a mission of improving health and well-being in partnership with its members, patients and community. HealthPartners Institute supports this mission through research and education—advancing care delivery and public health around the globe. The Institute annually conducts more than 350 research studies and trains 700+ medical residents and fellows and 1,200+ medical and advanced practice students. Its integration with HealthPartners’ hospitals, clinics and health plan strengthens the Institute’s ability to discover and develop evidence-based solutions and translate them into practice. Visit for more information.

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