Sanford teams with ex-golfer Nicklaus on children’s health – Sioux Falls Argus Leader
Sanford Health is teaming up with a Florida children’s hospital to conduct a community health project to understand the health needs of Latinos.
Sanford will work with Nicklaus Children’s Hospital to conduct genetic research in a project designed to ultimately help with treatment and prevention of diseases. The Sioux Falls hospital and its benefactor T. Denny Sanford donated $7 million for a gene sequencing project after a request for help from the hospital’s namesake, former pro golfer Jack Nicklaus.
“Prevention requires understanding,” said Dr. Cornelius Boerkoel, a genetic researcher with Sanford. “In order to maintain health and prevent disease we need some understanding of that spectrum of distinctness.”
Researchers in Florida and South Dakota will sequence the genes of about 1,000 Latinos as part of the project, which could span as many as four years, Boerkoel said. Doctors will be able to use information from the research to target any unique genetic characteristics of Latinos, including children who are served at the 289-bed Nicklaus hospital.
Genetic information gathered as part of the research can be used to build a database to help determine patterns, as well as identify rare disease.
Boerkoel was hired by Sanford last year to head the health care system’s new genetic research arm. The Sanford Imagenetics Research Center on Genomic and Molecular Medicine is slated to open in its own dedicated space this year in a 100,000-square foot building across from the system’s central Sioux Falls campus.
Researchers in Florida hope to improve care for children in the Latino community. The hospital’s goal is to create a profile to show how genetic code affects the body. And improving care for Latinos, that means studying the differences in the genes, Boerkoel said.
“The analogy I like to use is we each inherited from our parents a set of instructions that told our body how to grow and develop,” Boerkoel said. “And we have two copies, one from mom, one from pop.”
Heart disease is the top killer of South Dakotans and people across the United States, and risks are even greater for Latinos because of a prevalence of diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association.
Juan Bonilla, president of the Sioux Falls-based La Voz radio, said he was happy to see Sanford getting involved in one of the first gene sequencing projects in the country targeting Latinos. Bonilla, who ran for Minnehaha County Commission last year, has been an advocate for the rest of the city’s Latino population.
“That would be great to get ready for the future generations of Latinos in the United States,” Bonilla said. “They know more about us.”
Nicklaus reached out to the billionaire philanthropist and asked for his help with what he called “groundbreaking research” to improve health care for children in the Latino community.
“When we approached Denny with a plea to assist our important work at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital and through our Foundation, he was quick to open his heart and lend a hand,” Nicklaus said in a news release.
Researchers can get started as soon as the details are worked out, Boerkoel said.