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Avera Institute for Human Genetics

Avera Institute for Human Genetics has been forward-looking since opening its doors in 2006. This strong history of excellence has brought us to lead the way with a large twin registry bank — the first and only in South Dakota — and precision medicine breakthroughs.

As a human molecular genetics laboratory, we have the capability to undertake a wide range of clinical and research projects using advanced technology including:

  • Behavioral and cancer genetic studies
  • Biobanking
  • Personalized medicine
  • Tumor registries
  • Twin research

By advancing science through numerous partnerships and collaborations – both nationally and internationally – AIHG is already improving the care provided to Avera patients and communities while continuing to advance science and medicine.

Avera Twin Register

The Avera Institute for Human Genetics is home to the first and only twin register in South Dakota. Twin research is the most powerful way to learn how much of a certain trait is related to genetics and how much is related to environment. Learn more and join the Avera Twin Register.

Since 2009, AIHG has also partnered with the world’s leading twin register, the Netherlands Twin Register at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU). With the launch of our twin register in 2016, we collect and analyze DNA from twins throughout the Midwest and the Netherlands to provide insight about traits and diseases specific to each region.


AIHG’s innovative approach to pharmacogenomics has led to the development of GeneFolio. This personalized medicine test uses an individual’s unique DNA to analyze how that individual will respond to medications. It’s available to patients throughout the Avera region.

Current projects utilize pharmacogenomics for pain management, cardiovascular disease and behavioral health conditions, including depression and anxiety.

Advanced Technology for Genetic Research

With the latest in technology, experts at AIHG have the capability to undertake a wide range of projects from small-scale pilot next generation sequencing projects to large-scale high throughput genome-wide association studies on tens of thousands of samples.

The AIHG scientific lab enables researchers to describe a patient's genetic profile using innovative genetics technology, such as the:

  • Illumina iScan Beadchip Array platform
  • Illumina Next Generation Sequencers
  • QuantStudio and Viia7 Real-Time PCR Systems from Thermo Fisher Scientific

Meet Our Researchers

Erik Ehli

Erik Ehli, PhD

Erik Ehli is the Scientific Director of the Avera Institute for Human Genetics and Associate Professor at the University of South Dakota. He is a molecular biologist and complex disease geneticist and is the Technical Supervisor of the CLIA Certified and CAP Accredited Molecular Genetics Laboratory at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center. His laboratory utilizes next generation sequencing, whole-genome SNP genotyping, and DNA methylation techniques to understand and identify the genetic influences of health and disease with the goal of advancing the field of personalized medicine. Ehli is also actively involved in twin research to understand the role nature and nurture play in behavior, psychology, and a wide range of other important traits and diseases.

View list of research publications

Casey Finnicum

Casey Finnicum

Casey Finnicum is a Research Scientist at the Avera Institute for Human Genetics and an Assistant Professor at the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine. He is interested in studying multiple facets of human genetics and the role genetic factors have over the development of complex human traits, such as heart disease. Finnicum is also very active in studying the gut microbiome and its relationship to various disease states.

View list of research publications

Jeffrey Beck

Jeffrey Beck

Jeffrey Beck is a Research Scientist for the Avera Institute of Human Genetics. He enjoys designing informative research studies to answer scientific questions concerning the genetics of human traits. Beck has a particularly keen interest in the genetic factors underlying dizygotic (fraternal) twinning. He is also passionate about analyzing highly-dimensional datasets — combining genetic and non-genetic information — to uncover novel associations between genetics and human traits and diseases.

View list of research publications

Krista Bohlen

Krista Bohlen

Krista Bohlen is the Director of Personalized Pharmaceutical Medicine at the Avera Institute for Human Genetics and a Research Pharmacist on the Genetics Research Team. She is energized by working with her team to lead the charge in pharmacogenomics and personalized medicine implementation in Avera’s health system. She enjoys helping patients get the best treatment while improving their understanding of their results to empower their self-advocacy.

View list of research publications

Moving Health Forward

Avera is a health ministry rooted in the Gospel. Our mission is to make a positive impact in the lives and health of persons and communities by providing quality services guided by Christian values.

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