Genome testing

A Huntsville group may seek an appropriation from the Athens City Council so more residents can take part in a genetic cancer risk program.

Elizabeth Herrin, director of external relations with the Hudson Alpha Foundation, talked to the council Monday about the program and a high concentration of people who have taken the test are from Limestone County.

“The purpose is to give them information so they can have power over their health care,” she said. “It's better to know you're at risk and treat it than wait until after the diagnosis.”

The tests, which are offered as part of Hudson Alpha's Information is Power initiative, cost about $225 each for those outside a five-county area that includes Limestone. For those inside the five-county area, the cost is $129, according to Hudson Alpha media relations specialist Margetta Thomas. The test is also free for men and women ages 28-30, Thomas said.

The tests don't say if a person has cancer, but instead if the person is at risk for developing cancer based on genetic markers. The test is relatively simple to administer. It requires swabbing the inside of a person's cheek and sending off the swabs to be analyzed.

Hudson Alpha began offering the tests in 2015, and since then about 4,100 people have participated. Half of those respondents took the test for free with help from various community partners.

The majority of those tested, 76%, have been women. Of the 4,100, 15% were from Limestone County. About 4% of those tested received a positive result.

Jessica Merritt, who assisted with Herrin's presentation, told the council participants come from different backgrounds, but the company seeks to increase diversity in participants. She told the council a 50-year-old woman named Jill was tested because her mother died of ovarian cancer.

“She wondered if she carried an ovarian cancer marker,” Merritt said. “For 35 years, she had that in the back of her mind.”

She and Herrin both stressed that participants should make their personal physicians aware they are participating in the test. Test results are shared with physicians so, in the case of a positive diagnosis, a plan of attack can be established.

The Hudson Alpha Foundation's initiative has been supported by the Russell Hill Foundation, which also supports Clearview Cancer Institute. The group has also asked the city of Decatur for an appropriation and plans to ask the city of Athens.

“We want to grow the participation in the test beyond Madison County,” Herrin said.

Elsewhere Monday, the council heard from city engineer Michael Griffin about his plans to put a link to the city's capital improvement plan on the city's website. He said being able to view the plan online would be helpful to both the public and economic developers. The plan would depict current and future projects, the date completed and the cost.

Griffin didn't provide a date for when the plan would be available to the public online, but said final details are being worked out.

Other business

In other business Monday, the council:

• Approved the purchase of two John Deer Gators for the parks, recreation and cemetery department at a cost of $12,960;

• Approved a resolution committing to a Census 2020 partnership in which the city will promote participation in the census; and

• Introduced an ordinance to abandon a utility easement in the vicinity of U.S. 72 and Greenfield Drive. The council will vote on the ordinance at the next council meeting on Sept. 23.

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