In the News: Sanford Health Announces Gift for Genetics Research; Augustana Invited Into Academic Collaboration

Augustana alumnus Dr. Gene Hoyme '72, chief academic officer for Sanford Health, president and senior scientist for Sanford Research/USD, board certified geneticist and professor of Pediatrics (Medical Genetics), talks about the potential partnerships with Augustana and USD at the event announcing the $125 million gift for genetics research.

On Tuesday, Jan. 7, Sanford Health announced a $125 million gift from philanthropist T. Denny Sanford to establish Sanford Imagenetics, a first-of-its-kind program that will integrate genomic medicine into primary care for adults.

One component of Imagenetics includes initial partnerships with Augustana College and the University of South Dakota to develop new academic programs which will train the next generation of doctors, nurses and scientists in genomic medicine.

The following story detailing the announcement appears in the Wednesday, Jan. 8, issue of the Argus Leader:

Sanford Gets $125M to Boost Genetics Research

By Jon Walker, Argus Leader

Another blockbuster donation from T. Denny Sanford, this one for $125 million, will launch a new effort by Sanford Health to merge genomic medicine with everyday primary care for adults.

Officials announced the gift in a program Tuesday to introduce what they are calling Sanford Imagenetics.

The money will support an array of projects designed to help doctors prescribe drugs more effectively and give patients a better understanding of their long-term health. It will pay for new buildings in several Sanford locations, including its main Sioux Falls campus. It also will support workforce development at state medical schools in North and South Dakota and the introduction of master’s-level genetics programs at Augustana College.

For the average patient, the bottom line might be the ability to provide a blood sample so personal DNA can lead to practical decisions in a doctor’s office.

“This is the frontier of medicine. This is going to change everything,” said Kelby Krabbenhoft, CEO at Sanford Health.

Krabbenhoft said the donation pushes T. Denny Sanford past the $1 billion mark in lifetime giving, with more than $800 million to Sanford Health.

“The world’s most profound health care philanthropist ... gives us the means to create a real and practical method, through the brightest minds in medicine, to deliver ... unique solutions to everyone through the human gene,” Krabbenhoft said. “Once again, he’s taken what was possible and made it practical for everybody.”

Krabbenhoft spoke before an audience of 300 in a conference room in a program that drew a standing-room audience of 300 to a conference room at the health system’s corporate headquarters on 60th Street North in Sioux Falls. Sanford, 78, a banker with homes in South Dakota, Arizona and California, watched the ceremony from Arizona.

'It's certainly cutting edge' research

The scope of the gift and nature of the announcement put Sanford in a national light Tuesday.

“It’s certainly cutting edge,” said Dr. Eric J. Topol, professor of genomics at the Scripps Research Institute in California. “We have such a long ways to go to get genomics into everyday medical practice. So this certainly should help. And, if done well, it ought to lay the groundwork for Sanford to be a model for the country.

Sanford and its cross-town rival, Avera Health, both have accelerated their efforts to use genomics as an entry point to practical medicine. Avera this month began using DNA to customize the prescription of pain-killing drugs for patients after orthopedic surgery. Avera also has genetic counselors working with patients in cancer and perinatal care, a spokeswoman said Tuesday. Both systems have bio-banks to use DNA samples from women in their work against breast cancer. Avera acknowledged the Sanford donation Tuesday as another step in medical progress.

“Investments in applied genetics are critical to the continued advancement of patient care. Avera has been working in this area of genetics since 2007. Knowledge acquired through large gifts such as this one will benefit all of us working in this field,” said Kendra Calhoun, senior vice president of marketing for Avera Health.

Dr. Eugene Hoyme, president of Sanford Research, said Sanford leads the region with seven genetics counselors and five medical doctors, including himself, who are clinical geneticists. He also told the audience Tuesday that Sanford has had “the region’s only comprehensive genetics program for 20 years.”

The donation will let Sanford Health establish a one-of-its-kind industry model bringing the science of genomics into primary care, Hoyme said. The network will staff clinics in its regional hubs with genetics counselors and physicians with genetic training. The donation also will lead to construction or building expansions in several cities and the use of telemedicine and outreach clinics to reach remote areas in the Northern Plains.

Two Augustana Master's Programs

Rob Oliver Augustana President Rob Oliver addresses attendees at the event announcing T. Denny Sanford's gift to Sanford Health.

The donation will let Augustana offer a pair of two-year master’s programs, in genetic counseling and bio-informatics, and a one-year certificate in genomic nursing, said Hoyme, himself an Augustana graduate. The programs would begin in fall 2015 at earliest.

Rob Oliver, president at Augustana, said the arrangement will be two independent institutions working collaboratively.

“The cost ... is not nailed down, but the commitment is there on both of our parts on how to put the plans together and how we can get it done,” Oliver said. “It’s significant that Sanford has invited us into this process. Obviously, they have the funding available from their donation to assist in making things happen. We’re going to be investing as well.”

Krabbenhoft said ground breaking would occur in spring 2015 for a new building to bring genetics and internal medicine under one roof on the hospital campus at 18th and Grange. It would be 65,000 to 70,000 square feet, about the size of a grocery store, and would cost $25 million to $30 million. Krabbenhoft said the health system will put up a similar building in Fargo.


In a message to the Augustana campus community on Tuesday, Oliver expressed his gratitude and optimism.

"...thanks to Mr. Sanford for his generosity, which I believe has the power to change the world by helping to develop skilled researchers and nurses dedicated to extending life, and serving those who are genetically predisposed to life-altering disease," Oliver wrote. "I also [thank] Sanford Health for inviting Augustana to be part of this very exciting initiative."

"Obviously, there is still much work to be done to move today’s announcement from concept to implementation. We do not have a firm date for when these new potential programs will begin at Augustana. For now, we are in the exploratory stages."