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Fairview Health Services is collaborating with a local genetics research firm to determine if DNA tests can steer patients to more effective treatment for high blood pressure, a condition that afflicts more than 1 million Minnesotans.

Roughly 800 hypertension patients at eight Fairview clinics will be invited over the next year to enroll in the clinical trial, making it one of the largest studies ever to evaluate the benefits of genetic testing on disease management.

Half will receive customized treatment based on their genetic test results, while half will receive standard hypertension therapy. Researchers hope the genetic testing and customized treatment will result in more patients getting their blood pressure under control in less time, and with fewer trial-and-error attempts at the best medications.

“We believe we can dramatically cut the time, cost and side effects involved in managing high blood pressure through the use of gene-specific treatment protocols,” said Dr. Dang Tran, vice president of medical practice for Fairview Medical Group and principal investigator for the study.

The DNA test is made by Minnetonka-based Geneticure. On its website, the company likens the current medical approach to hypertension to “throwing a dart at a dart board … then adjusting the aim with each toss. This trial and error method means many patients are given prescriptions that are ineffective.”

Even so, standard care for hypertension is remarkably effective — Fairview boasts a 90 percent success rate at getting hypertensive patients to tolerable blood pressure levels.

Tran acknowledged that this creates a high bar for the genetic test to prove its worth. But he is optimistic. Some patients’ hypertension, for example, is exacerbated by stiffer blood vessels, and genetic testing could identify them and steer them right away to medications that dilate those vessels.

“That’s the level of granularity we’re going to get to,” he said, “a personalized approach.”

Minnesota has one of the nation’s lowest rates of hypertension, but nonetheless, 27 percent of the state’s residents suffer from the condition. High blood pressure, which is more common among people who are obese, substantially increases risks of heart attacks and stroke.

Geneticure and Fairview are funding the trial. Tran said extra measures are being taken as a result to ensure the integrity of the trial, including the use of an independent epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota to evaluate the data and results.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744