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Avera Institute for Human Genetics

3720 W. 69th Street Suite 200
Sioux Falls, SD 57108
Phone: 605-322-3050

Research Initiatives

Research Initiatives

The Avera Institute for Human Genetics (AIHG) seeks to further Avera's mission by providing a positive impact in the lives and health of the people and communities we serve.

Through its three areas of commitment, AIHG will seek to create a more complete understanding of an individual's genetic profile, interaction with environment and response to pharmacologic therapies. This research will lead to a better understanding of personalized treatments and more effective preventative strategies.


Biobanking (or Sample Banking) is the collection and storage of human samples, such as blood, saliva, urine, etc. The samples are then available to genetic scientists for future research projects which may help the scientists understand the following:

  • why one person gets a disease while another person does not;
  • how environmental influences affect disease;
  • what medications or treatments may or may not prevent or treat the symptoms or occurrence of a particular disease.

Understanding the answers to these questions--among others--could serve to improve athe overall health of many people, while working to reduce healthcare costs.

Learn more about biobanking

Scientific Initiatives

The AIHG laboratory is equipped to use genetic approaches to investigate genes that may define risk and protective factors. Major scientific projects planned or currently underway include the following:

Netherlands Twin Study

AIHG was part of a multi-site grant which was awarded by the National Institute of Mental Health. This award provided a total of $2,625,500 in funding to Avera over two years (9/30/09 to 9/30/11).

DNA has been collected from 4,414 twins in the Netherlands, who have been followed from birth until age 22. This study allowed us to identify new genetic influences on child psychiatric illness which in turn has lead to improved diagnostic and treatment approaches. The project was the first single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)/copy number variation (CNV) and genome-wide association study of common childhood psychopathologies using an extended twin-sibling family study design.

Cancer Research

Breast Cancer Collaborative Registry: Individuals who have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer, have a history of breast cancer, are at high risk of developing breast cancer are eligible to participate in the Breast Cancer Collaborative Registry (BCCR) project.

Information collected will be stored on a web-based registry, known as the breast cancer collaborative registry (BCCR). By providing your health information collected in the questionnaires of this registry, researchers will study the factors that influence the risk of developing breast cancer as well as the prognosis and quality of life of breast cancer patients.

Researchers may also identify individuals who might benefit from screening measures to detect breast cancer at an earlier and potentially more treatable stage. Learn more about BCCR.

Thyroid Tumor Registry: The purpose of the Thyroid Tumor and Cancer Collaborative Registry (TCCR) is to establish a database for patients with thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer. A biospecimen bank of samples will contribute as a resource for future studies into diagnostic and therapeutic research.

Individuals who have a personal diagnosis or history of thyroid cancer or who have a thyroid nodule(s) may be able to participate in this registry. Information collected through this registry may help researchers studying thyroid cancer be better able to identify factors for thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer. Learn more about TCCR.

Gynecological Oncology Biobanking: Avera McKennan's gynecologic oncology program offers the latest treatment options and personalized plans of care for the best possible outcomes. With the Avera Institute for Human Genetics and the Avera Research Institute, tissues samples are collected during surgical procedures for patients with ovarianm uterine, cervical, or other gynecologic cancers. By looking at the specimens, researchers are able to study the following:

  • differences between tumors in patients;
  • differences in tumors from the same patient;
  • genetic markers or mutations.

From these findings, physicians can create personalized treatment regimens.

Clinical Initiatives

With over ten years of experience, the Avera Research Institute has the expertise to assist the AIHG efforts to conduct clinical research. Several clinical studies are currently being conducted.

Behavioral Genetics

Psychiatric Pharmacogenomics: One clinical study focused on a small, defined population residing at the South Dakota Developmental Center (SDDC), which serves individuals with developmental disabilities and co-occurring psychiatric disorders. This population was selected after the state approached AIHG to help reduce individual patient’s medication burden and optimize prescription therapy to improve clinical outcomes. Interestingly, eleven of the 150 residents of SDDC utilize over $1,000 per month just for medications.

Approximately 50 residents with high numbers of medications used per month had been approached to participate in the study. Eligibility of residents was determined by the treatment team which consists of 3-4 of the following professionals: treating psychologist, behavior therapist, case manager, supervisors, counselors, dietitians, physician assistants, occupational therapists, and physical therapists.

The goal of the study was to develop a process for utilizing pharmacogenomic analysis as a strategy to improve the quality of life, increase safety, reduce medication burden, and enhance effectiveness of medications in people with psychiatric illnesses and developmental disabilities. Ultimately, this interdisciplinary service could be developed into a standard screening and consultation tool for healthcare providers to utilize when determining the most appropriate medication for their patients.

ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects approximately 10-12% of school-aged children in the United States, making it one of the most common psychiatric disorders in children. The discrepancy in diagnosis and treatment of ADHD among girls may contribute to a reduced number of girls reaching adulthood with the diagnosis of ADHD. Because the prevalence of ADHD does not decline as significantly with adulthood as once thought, it is suggested a much higher incidence of undiagnosed ADHD symptoms exists among adult women. A clinical study has been designed to determine if offering relative-risk genotyping for ADHD and educating around the genetic and environmental contributions to ADHD may lead to greater healthcare acceptance in women who struggle with ADHD symptoms.

Obesity Genetics: AIHG is involved in the development of a product composed of all-natural ingredients. This nutriceutical has been tested for effectiveness in weight loss and changes in body composition in an obese population. Individuals who are at least 18 years old and have a body mass index (BMI) of at least 30 were able to participate in this trial. Results were recently published in the journal Phytomedicine.

Another clinical study involving this nutriceutical will evaluate its effectiveness in weight loss in patients taking an antipsychotic medication. With the development of second-generation antipsychotic medications comes a myriad of adverse health-related side effects including weight gain and obesity. These side effects may not only cause health-related deterioration in patients, but also compromise patients’ willingness to remain on the medications.

Cancer Genetics

Breast Cancer

Gynecologic Cancers

Obesity Genetics: Research is being done to look at weight loss reduction and cancer survivorship.