In an effort to expand its landmark population health and genetics initiative, the Healthy Nevada Project, to a statewide and national level, Renown appointed its first Chief Scientific Officer, Joseph Grzymski, Ph.D. A leader in biomedical and translational research, Dr. Grzymski answers questions below about the project and what a CSO is.
What exactly is a Chief Scientific Officer? What is your role in relation to the Healthy Nevada Project?
I’m the principal investigator of the Healthy Nevada Project. As this project has expanded and increased in importance for Renown Health, the Desert Research Institute (DRI) and northern Nevada in general, it became important to recognize the role of scientific research and basic hypothesis testing and asking questions within the health system.
The study is expanding – it’s been going on for two years. How does your Chief Scientific Officer role include your role at Renown but also still tied to DRI?
The role is really seamlessly integrated. I’ve been at DRI for more than a decade. I think it’s one of the jewels of research across the country and the world.
Our goal with the Healthy Nevada Project is to make the next breakthroughs for biomedicine and research. So we’re tying in a tremendous amount of the environmental data that’s collected every day at DRI. Combining this information will help answer questions like, “Why do some people get really, really sick when we have inversions and fires and others don’t?” We think there’s a genetic component to it. “Why do some people get cancer and others don’t, even though they have the same types of exposures?” These are the questions we’re trying to answer together.
So the project is really bringing in your genetics, your environment, everything that comes together to become some type of a condition?
Yes, the Healthy Nevada Project is really a first-of-its-kind population health study because we are combining all these data points together.
We have experts from Renown, DRI and Helix all working together, doing the work we’re hearing about – returning results on the individual level and working to make the next breakthroughs in medicine on the state and national level.
What is the study looking for with markers for genetic conditions?
The Healthy Nevada Project is looking for risks that are prevalent. This means that a certain number of people have them, and there are clear guidelines to make sure they won’t develop severe disease. These are conditions inherited from mom and dad.
Right now, we’re focusing on a lipid disorder called familial hypercholesterolemia, or FH, hereditary breast and ovarian cancer risks, also known as BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, and the third is Lynch syndrome, a risk for colorectal and endometrial cancer.