MyCode helps ID potential health problems

MyCode participant Kim Mummert, of Williamsport, poses in front of the Susquehanna River.

Genomic screening for potential health problems is proving its worth for Geisinger patient Kim Mummert, of Williamsport, who also works for the organization’s technology education services.

Mummert decided last year to participate in a free, ongoing genetic study called the MyCode Community Health Initiative, which helps participants learn more about themselves by taking snapshots of their DNA and potential medical issues that could derive from it.

She was asked to participate while waiting for routine bloodwork. Geisinger saved a blood sample, separated its particles and froze them. The DNA was then sent to Regeneron Genetics Center in New York to be sequenced.

“I figured it’s for a good cause,” Mummert said. “I’ve been at Geisinger for a few years and, whenever an opportunity to help presents itself, even if I’m not in the medical field, I want to help.”

When Geisinger gets the report from Regeneron, they may send another sample to be sequenced to verify genetic markers. Through MyCode, Mummert learned she has genetic markers indicating she may have a disease called Lynch syndrome.

“It’s basically a miscommunication in the DNA when cells are reproducing, and it can lead to some cancers,” Mummert explained.

People with Lynch syndrome have a higher risk of colon, stomach, skin and other cancers. Females also have a greater risk of ovarian and uterine cancers, she added.

By having their genes examined, people can inform their families of any indications of potential health problems. Geisinger President David T. Feinberg called the program “anticipatory medicine.”

“We’re finding medically actionable conditions and giving that information back to our patients,” he said.

Mummert took the opportunity to convince her children, ages 29 and 27, to get tested. Turns out, they also carry the genetic markers for Lynch syndrome, she said.

“Instead of being reactive, I’m being kind of proactive,” Mummert said. “I’m not doing it necessarily for myself, but for my kids. They know now they need to watch this.”

According to a recent Geisinger statement, Mummert and her kids are just a few of over 500 people who have participated in the study and learned about clinical genetic risks presented by their DNA.

The statement goes on to say that, if each of those patients informed just one at-risk relative, over 1,000 people would benefit from MyCode.

“Most of these people would never have learned of their genetic risk and what they could do about it, except through MyCode,” said David H. Ledbetter, Geisinger executive vice president and chief scientific officer.

W. Andrew Faucett, a professor at Geisinger Genomic Medicine Institute, emphasized that MyCode is currently free. He said people can participate when they come in for check ups and labs, by calling Geisinger or by getting the consent form online.

“It’s important to note that MyCode is a research program, so it’s free to participants,” he said. “We’re trying to learn more about genetics and how they can help with treatment.”

He added that insurance “has nothing to do with it,” saying he has not heard any complaints from participants and, if anything, insurers should support the program because of its preventative nature.

Mummert corroborated his statement, saying she had no problems with her insurance nor have any of her cohorts in the program. She said she has been singing MyCode’s praises.

“I have been strongly encouraging other people to get involved,” she said. “I think a lot of people, at least initially, were not on board because they were afraid that, if something was found, their insurance would change. I’ve not run into that issue. I would almost think they would welcome people to do this, again, because you’re being proactive instead of reactive.”

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