By Pauleen Le

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — HealthPartners is looking for 100,000 volunteers to participate in a new genetic testing program, free of charge.

Genetic testing can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars but HealthPartners leaders said participants in this new program will not only get to learn a little bit about their heritage and ancestry but they’ll also know if they’re at risk for certain cancers and diseases.

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Ultimately, HealthPartners hopes this research will help lower the cost of health care for everyone in the future.

The program is called myGenetics. HealthPartners is teaming up with Helix — one of the largest DNA sequencing labs in the country — to test participants over the next four years.

Experts will be testing participants for BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 to see if they’re at risk for breast or ovarian cancer and they’ll also be looking for signs of colon cancer and heart disease.

HealthPartners officials said early detection is key.

“I think in your own family, we all have stories of people who’ve been impacted by cancer who found out too late to be able to make a big impact or difference,” said Leslie Dockan, vice president of operations for primary care laboratories and clinical operations for HealthPartners. “But for those who have the opportunity to know if they’re at risk and to take preventative measures, it literally can save someone’s life.”

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This project hits close to home for Dockan. Her sister-in-law was able to afford genetic testing a few years ago and found out she was positive for BRCA-2. She ultimately decided to have a double mastectomy as part of her preventative care.

Her sister, on the other hand, wasn’t able to afford genetic testing and now prevention isn’t an option because she was recently diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.

“My sister is not in that position right now,” said Dockan. “She can just manage where she’s at right now and so I don’t want that to happen to others. If there are people who want to know and who want to be able to intervene early this is a program and an opportunity for them to do that where they would not have had that opportunity before.”

The test is a simple saliva sample. If a participant’s test results come back positive for any of the diseases experts are testing for, HealthPartners officials said they will pair them up with the experts to help map out a plan for prevention.

Participants do not have to be HealthPartners members but they must be 18 and be receiving care from a HealthPartners or Park Nicollet clinic.

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Pauleen Le