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Feb. 13, 2019
This paid piece is sponsored by Sanford Health.
Just as a simple blood draw gives doctors all sorts of information about our well-being, a genetic testing process called the Sanford Chip can reveal other additional information from that sample. The $49 procedure shows what medications may work better for us than others and in what doses. The test also can show whether we’re prone to some cancers or other diseases.
The Sanford Chip isn’t inserted. It’s called that because the final part of a complex process effectively bakes the person’s deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, onto a panel that looks like a computer chip. Sanford Health started offering the procedure in 2018 and has since completed more than 2,000 tests.
If you’re one of those people or are still researching it before deciding, here’s an explanation of the genetic testing process, simplified:
This prepares the blood samples for the actual DNA testing:
At this point, the DNA sample goes to one of two types of actual testing: pharmacogenetic or disease, which vary slightly:
After a patient’s blood sample is turned into a digital record through the genetic testing process, the focus shifts to using the information gleaned from the test to help improve his or her health.
Once lab directors verify the credibility and confirm any findings through more testing, the DNA is stored in a secure area and the information from it also is stored securely on the Sanford Chip and in the person’s electronic medical record that only the patient and his or her doctors can see. “It’s all data in your record,” Michael Mboob, director of operations for the genomics and genetics lab.
The Sanford Chip comes with the same strict privacy rules and protections as all other aspects of a person’s health care. Sanford Health stores everyone’s DNA information in a secure area, and only patients and their care providers have access to their genetic test results.
Labs all over the U.S. use the Tecan robots like those used by the Sanford Chip process, Arens said. “We have some unique and more complicated applications for the robots with the normalization and plating scripts that we use. The robots bring a lot of accuracy to the process. You’re not worried about technicians accidentally pipetting (transferring liquid) into the wrong well or maybe swapping samples. They are very consistent. They will give you the same thing every time.”
Robots also speed mundane tasks.
“It does the things that would take us days or weeks to do in a matter of a few hours or a few days. They speed up the process and reduce the error rate significantly,” Mboob said.
Each instrument is named after a cartoon character, including Woody from “Toy Story” and Timon from “Lion King,” so it’s easier to identify them.
While robots and software bring accuracy and efficiency to the process, they can do only so much and do only what they’re programmed to do, Lee said. “There’s some variability and some weirdness that the software can’t interpret, so you have to review everything to make sure the software is calling everything correctly.”
Once the Sanford Chip is run, it falls on a laboratory director like Dr.to extract meaningful information from the data generated through the genetic testing process.
That information has to be “accurate, scientifically proven and supported by evidence,” she said. “I have to put this in a format that enables the care providers, whether a primary care physician or a specialist, to use that genetic information to guide the patient care.”
Lab workers track and document every step and detail of the genetic testing process, including the equipment used, lot numbers of the chemicals and temperatures of the equipment and room, Fricke said. The result ensures that every aspect of the process stays within the allowable range and adds to the credibility of the lab.
“Just to run one simple test is probably 30 pages of documentation we have to follow step by step to ensure we get accurate results to the patient, and we follow the steps that are governed not only by our lab directors but also federal and state statutes as well,” Mboob said.
“I think they (patients) can take confidence in what they’re getting in terms of results is accurate, and they can rest assured it’s a quality product.”
Just as the genetic testing process is changing health care for patients, it’s also creating new demand for people with science backgrounds needed for working in labs and research.
“I just think it’s really interesting to go from a blood sample to having results,” Arens said of her work in the lab. “I enjoy hands-on science where you start a process, you complete the process and you get results that day, as opposed to three-year-long research projects that are very specific to one thing. This is very general, and it’s got a lot of information that can help a lot of people.”
First thing to know about the Sanford Chip: It isn’t an actual physical chip. Instead, it’s a cutting-edge way to use a genetic test to determine many approaches to your health care. Here’s how it all works.