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10 years of Public Health Genomics at CDC

1.0 Public Health Genomics at CDC: 1997-2007

Public Health Genomics

The news media report on advances in genomics research with increasing frequency, contributing to raised expectations that human genomics and related fields will lead to enhanced personalized health care and disease prevention. In contrast, the translation of these advances into interventions to improve health and prevent disease has been slow, resulting in relatively few genomics discoveries that have led to evidence-based applications for health practice. Public health research, including population studies in epidemiology, policy and communication sciences, and health services research, is needed to translate promising genomic discoveries into individual and public health interventions.

Public health genomics is a multidisciplinary field concerned with the effective and responsible translation of genome-based knowledge and technologies to improve population health. Public health genomics uses population-based data on genetic variation and gene-environment interactions to develop evidence-based tools for improving health and preventing disease.

Through the Office of Public Health Genomics (OPHG), CDC provides national and international leadership in public health genomics, while building partnerships with other federal agencies, public health organizations, professional groups, and the private sector.

History of Public Health Genomics at CDC

In 1997, CDC established the Office of Genetics and Disease Prevention following the recommendations of an agency-wide, ad hoc Task Force on Genetics and Disease Prevention. The Task Force was appointed by then-CDC director Dr. David Satcher, to propose a strategic plan through which the agency might coordinate and strengthen its activities in genetics and public health. Since its formation, the Office of Genetics and Disease Prevention has been renamed twice—first in 2003, the year marking the completion of the Human Genome Project, as the Office of Genomics and Disease Prevention, and then again in 2006, as the Office of Public Health Genomics (OPHG), in recognition of its national scope and public health focus. The office has had several locations within CDC’s organizational structure, moving from the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) to the CDC Office of the Director (OD) before arriving at its current home, the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) in the Coordinating Center for Health Promotion (CoCHP).

OPHG Vision, Mission, and Goals

The vision, mission, and goals of OPHG have evolved over time in response to ongoing input from internal and external CDC partners, lessons learned from OPHG projects, priorities of CDC agency-wide initiatives including the Goals process and the Futures Initiative, and the changing identity and location of the office within the CDC organizational structure. The central tenet upon which the vision, mission, and goals are based is the role of public health in translating human genome discoveries into population health benefits.

Although fundamental to many CDC programs, legislation has not been the primary influence in directing specific OPHG activities. Instead, priorities are continually shaped by OPHG leadership, input from internal and external CDC partners, the roles of other government agencies and the private sector, availability of funding, and the state of the science. OPHG’s research and program portfolios are dedicated to closing the gap between genome discoveries and public health impact.

OPHG vision: to use genomic knowledge to improve the lives and health of all people.
OPHG mission: to integrate genomics into public health research, policy, and programs.
OPHG goals: to improve public health interventions through population-based genomic research, assessment of the role of family history in determining risk and for disease prevention, and the evaluation of genetic tests.

OPHG Major Projects 1997-2007

The major OPHG projects are briefly summarized below, with their location along the continuum from gene discovery to public health impact illustrated in the figure on the following page. More detail on each initiative is provided in Section 2.0.


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OPHG funds genomics programs in four state health departments, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, and Utah, to integrate genomics knowledge, tools (e.g., family history assessments), and surveillance findings into the strategies and activities of chronic disease prevention programs.


Through its various initiatives, OPHG has developed a large array of partnerships with other federal agencies, particularly NHGRI, NCI, and institutes of NIH, state public health organizations, academia, health care organizations, patient advocacy groups, and the private sector. In addition, OPHG has spearheaded global collaborations in human genome epidemiology, genetic testing, and public health genomics by engaging with researchers and policy makers worldwide. (See HuGENetTM and EGAPP™ in section 2.0) OPHG has helped lead the development of an international public health genomics network called Genome-based Research Population Health International Network (GRAPHInt).

In 2006, OPHG facilitated the establishment of the CDC Public Health Genomics Collaboration (PHGC) in response to the high level of interest in genomics at CDC. The PHGC is a network of CDC professionals working in or interested in public health genomics. The goals are to provide a forum for the ongoing exchange of ideas, research, and information; to determine points of synergy for improving health by using genomics; and to integrate public health genomics into research, policy, and programs across CDC. The PHGC coordinates stimulating and informative meetings throughout the year, highlighting relevant topics in public health genomics and facilitating discussions of cutting edge research, methodology, and technology. To date, hundreds of CDC employees across every Center, Institute or Office (CIO) have participated in PHGC activities.


CDC Genomics home pageOPHG’s communication strategy targets a broad range CDC audiences and external audiences, including health care providers, public health practitioners, genetic and genomic researchers and practitioners, health care payers/purchasers, policy makers, and the general public. The communication strategy aims to encourage the integration of genomics into research, policy, and practice by developing and disseminating credible resources in public health genomics. Principal activities and products include: the OPHG Web site which has more than 2,000 main pages of genomics information and resources and approximately 4,000 pages of presentations and interactive materials; a weekly online publication called Genomics & Health Weekly Update, which reaches more than 4,000 subscribers worldwide; OPHG conferences, meetings, workshops, and seminars; media interviews; presentations and exhibit booths at public health events; publications; campaigns; and a public inquiry mailbox.

OPHG’s Web site is at the top of search results in Google, Altavista, AOL, DHHS, and other search engines for the terms public health genomics or genomics and disease prevention. The Web site receives more than 100,000 visits per year.

Increased interest in genetics and genomics by the news media has led to OPHG interviews with numerous newspapers, magazines, and other publications that are widely disseminated to various audiences nationally and internationally. Since January 2007, OPHG has interviewed with the Wall Street Journal, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Sun Sentinel, AAPA News, Men’s Health, and other publications on topics such as genetic testing, family history, and personalized medicine.

OPHG has organized approximately 100 conferences, workshops, meetings, and seminars, involving partners from across CDC and collaborators for OPHG initiatives. OPHG participates and exhibits at annual health promotion events, such as the American Public Health Association conference and the DHHS/CDC Disease Prevention and Health Promotion conferences. In January 2008, OPHG will host a meeting to celebrate its 10th anniversary of public health genomics at CDC, inviting experts to present on genomics and population research, human genome epidemiology, genetic testing, family history, and public health practice.

OPHG Organizational Structure and Personnel

The director and deputy director provide strategic leadership for OPHG with support and input from the associate director for epidemiology, and the associate director for science, and the other senior staff. Day-to-day operations are supported by management and operations staff.

OPHG has dedicated teams to support the major initiatives and the communications functions. These teams include: the Knowledge Integration Team; the Population Health Research Team; the EGAPP™ Team; the Prevention and Translation Research Team; and the Communications Team. Each team has a designated lead staff member and support staff. The organizational structure is depicted in the figure and includes personnel who possess a wide array of professional disciplines and skills.

Currently, OPHG supports a total of 45 staff, which includes 18 federal full-time employees. Since 1997, OPHG staff has grown considerably but the office remains a relatively small cross-cutting entity in terms of absolute personnel resources.

Office of Public Health Genomics

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