Greenwood Genetic Center and Clemson University Team Up

Forty years ago, Drs. Roger Stevenson and Hal Taylor, two research fellows from Johns Hopkins in Maryland, with the funding of the Self Foundation and the state of South Carolina department of disabilities and special needs, established what would be a first-rate genetics research and diagnostics facility. The two doctors knew they wanted to locate their facility in the southeast, and when Mr. Self stipulated that he would fund the enterprise only if it was located in his hometown of Greenwood, the matter of location was settled. Since that time, Greenwood Genetic Center has advanced the study of human genetics in the areas of intellectual disabilities, autism, and birth defects.


Joint Venture with Clemson


This year, a joint partnership between Greenwood Genetic Center and Clemson University will expand the research capabilities of both organizations, along with Self Regional Healthcare as the hospital partner in the venture. The hospital contributed $5.6 million towards the collaboration, with $2 million going towards the building and $1.2 million per year over three years going towards research.


Eight years in the making, this collaborative effort formalizes an informal partnership that has existed between Clemson and GGC for years: Some of the GGC faculty have been adjuncts in the genetics program at Clemson, and since Clemson doesn’t have a human genetics program, GGC has hosted PhD students who wanted to focus in that area.


The partnership was announced in the summer of 2013, and construction is slated to start sometime in the spring of this year. Recruitment has begun for the endowed chair position, funded by the Self Foundation, who will lead the research teams including five new faculty members to be hired by Clemson.


The research teams will be blended teams representing both Clemson and GGC. Six research grants have already been funded, with five of them focused on autism and the sixth addressing oncology—a new area of focus for GGC.


The autism research grants will further develop current research, says GGC communications director Lori Bassett. “The autism research that we’ve already been involved in is at an exciting point—researchers have recently found a link between autism and an amino acid called tryptophan. Our researchers have created a process to develop a blood test to detect autism. We’re really excited to have a cheap, quick, simple way to screen patients for autism.”


About the Center


Greenwood Genetic Center employs a total of about 170 people around the state—there are clinical centers in Greenville, Columbia, Charleston, and Florence—with the bulk of them at the Greenwood facility, which performs both research and diagnostics.


For most of the center’s 40 years in the upstate, it has been known mainly in the medical community and to families who have needed their services, but in the last three or four years there has been more of an effort to raise awareness, Bassett says. Events such as Race the Helix, a 5K fundraiser that was started by the father of a GGC patient, and Jammin’ for Genes, a barbecue and music festival, not only raise money but help to make people aware of the center and its programs. Race the Helix is expanding to Greenville this year, with a race there in April in addition to the October race in Greenwood.


And they’re taking the show on the road, visiting middle and high schools with the Mobile Science Lab—a 41-foot custom bus with a fully equipped lab inside where students learn about genetics, but more importantly, become exposed to the idea of genetics as a career. Teachers can sign up for this free service starting in May for the following school year. Now in its fifth year, the Mobile Science Lab reaches about 6,000 students per year across the state .


Center director Dr. Steve Skinner said in the 40th anniversary newsletter, “The GGC is committed to remaining true to our heritage of excellence, integrity and compassion while we lead boldly into the future by turning the hope and promise of genetics into the reality of treatments for genetic disorders.”


Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at SharonPurvisWrites.com.

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