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BIO Convention Plays Key Role in Nevada’s New Model for Population Health

April 20, 2017
Dr. Joseph Grzymski had an idea for a pitch. As the lead investigator for a Nevada-based project that would create a new model for understanding population health, his research team needed a way to make genetic testing available to thousands of people.

Grzymski, an associate research professor of computational biology and microbiology at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno, knew just the company that could help: the personalized genetics company, 23andMe. But what was the best way to get in front of the right people at the company?

Grzymski’s research team had participated in discussions at past BIO International Conventions and was familiar with BIO’s One-on-One Partnering™ which hosts and arranges thousands of meetings during three and a half busy days each June. Last year, with some new collaborators from Renown Health, they went looking to pitch an idea to 23andMe. The rest as they say… is history.

The project that developed from that initial BIO One-on-One Partnering™ meeting is a collaboration between DRI, Renown Health, 23andMe, and the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development. It is one of the state’s boldest health research initiatives and is a one-of-a-kind population health study in northern Nevada – where residents exceed the age-adjusted deaths rates for heart disease, cancer, and chronic lower respiratory disease.

“We knew that genetic information combined with hospital outcomes and environmental data could be a powerful toolkit,” Grzymski said. “But we didn’t have the DNA processing capabilities, and we wanted to have something immediately to give to our study participants.”

After their initial BIO One-on-One Partnering™ meeting, 23andMe executives traveled to Reno to hear more about the plan to give 5,000 Nevada residents free DNA testing kits, starting with the Governor.

Nevada’s ground-breaking population health and genetics project recruited 10,000 people in less than 48 hours (expanded from an initial 5,000 after filling up in just 24 hours) and then worked across academic and private-sector lines to aid participants through an informed consent process and collect all of their DNA samples in less than three months.
Find out how they did it at BIO 2017 (San Diego Convention Center) during the panel discussion:
Nevada as a New Model for Population Health Studies
Personalized Medicine & Diagnostics track
Date: Jun 21, 2017
Time: 4:15 PM–5:15 PM
Location: Room 6D

The Launch

On Thursday, September 15, 2016 more than 200 of Nevada’s top business, education, and government leaders gathered at DRI to participate in launching one of the first community-based population health studies in the U.S. that would combine health, population and genetic information with environmental data and return 23andMe genetic results to study participants.

Funded by the Renown Health Foundation and Nevada’s Knowledge Fund, the pilot study offered community members the opportunity to volunteer for research and gain access to their individual genetic information at no cost.

The study was open to the first 5,000 northern Nevada residents that qualified. Each participant received 23andMe’s Personal Genome Service, including more than 70 personalized genetic reports on their health, traits and ancestry. 23andMe is the first and only direct-to-consumer genetics company to provide reports that meet FDA standards.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, who announced his participation as one of the first Nevada residents to complete 23andMe’s simple DNA test as part of this study, said the study offered an unprecedented opportunity for residents of the Silver State.

Communications efforts for the launch included a comprehensive media campaign, social strategy including Facebook Live video of the launch, recruitment videos, a custom website, the participation of Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, and first-hand DNA test-experience messaging from 23 influential community ambassadors.

What’s Next

Now, one year later the team from Nevada is heading back to BIO 2017 to tell their story and recruit more interest in what’s happening in Nevada.

Researchers hope to build an infrastructure to apply the population health pilot to all 2.8 million Nevada residents – doing so could enable researchers to build predictive models to look for significant population health factors across demographic variables (gender, age, income, location); and distinct population health strata that consider community health, individual health, and chronic disease variables, as well as their interactions.

“We will begin to understand how environmental factors can help identify associations between populations who may be at risk, and potentially allow for quicker diagnoses and improvements to the way we care for our community,” said Anthony Slonim, MD, DrPH, President and CEO of Renown Health.

“That understanding, combined with the information we deliver to study participants, are the first steps toward a future where access to personal health data will contribute to a higher overall health status for all Nevadans. Having environmental data, population health outcomes, genetic information, and socio-economic health determinants will help Nevada address some of its most complex environmental health problems and serve as a legacy for future generations.”

The Institute for Health Innovation, a not-for-profit partnership between Nevada-based Renown Health, the Desert Research Institute, and the DRI Foundation, is working to integrate environmental data, population health outcomes, genetic information, and socio-economic determinants to help Nevada address some of its most complex environmental health problems. For more information visit

Renown Health is a locally governed and locally owned, not-for-profit integrated healthcare network serving Nevada for more than 150 years. Services reach across northern Nevada, Lake Tahoe and northeast California. Renown is one of the region’s largest private employers with a workforce of more than 6,300. It comprises three acute care hospitals, a rehabilitation hospital, skilled nursing, the area’s most comprehensive medical group and urgent care network, and the region’s largest and only locally owned not-for-profit insurance company, Hometown Health. Renown has a long tradition of being the first in the region to successfully perform leading-edge medical procedures. For more information, visit

Desert Research Institute (DRI), the nonprofit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education, is a world leader in environmental sciences through the application of knowledge and technologies to improve people’s lives throughout Nevada and the world. Supported by Nevada’s Knowledge Fund, the DRI Applied Innovation Center (AIC) aims to aid and improve the new, knowledge-based economy in Nevada by integrating DRI’s core areas of expertise in hydrologic, atmospheric, earth and ecosystem sciences with data analysis and informatics, visualization, modeling and simulation. More information about DRI’s Applied Innovation Center is available at

23andMe, Inc. is the leading personal genetics company. Founded in 2006, the mission of the company is to help people access, understand and benefit from the human genome. 23andMe has more than one million customers worldwide, with over 80 percent consented to participate in research. 23andMe, Inc. is located in Mountain View, CA. More information is available at