New UAMS Genetics Division Looks to Future of Customized Medical Treatments

By todd

LITTLE ROCK – A new Division of Genetics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) focuses education, patient care and research resources to realize the potential of genetic information for customized treatments and early detection of disease.


Nationally known, board-certified genetics expert G. Bradley Schaefer, M.D., has been appointed the inaugural director of the Division of Genetics in the UAMS College of Medicine. Schaefer comes to UAMS from University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC).


Schaefer noted how genetic tests are already helping determine cancer risk as well as the effectiveness of certain drugs in treating problems ranging from blood clots to psychiatric disorders.


“Genetics is gaining speed as the next phase of medicine since we continue to unlock the potential for new and more effective medical treatments based on heredity and genetic makeup,” Schaefer said. “This new division allows UAMS to move toward a comprehensive genetics program that paves the way for collaborations across any medical discipline.”


The free-standing division will consolidate and expand on existing genetics expertise on campus and help prepare students for a new era in medicine that focuses more on the growing understanding of genomics. The division will coordinate medical student education in genetics, expand clinical services in medical genetics in Arkansas and build an infrastructure of clinical and research activities.


“Eventually we want to host clinical trials, working to improve access to the newest medical treatments for patients in Arkansas and expand the boundaries of genetics knowledge,” Schaefer said.


Joining Schaefer in the new division is Kent D. McKelvey, M.D., an assistant professor in the College of Medicine who has served as director of cancer genetics in the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. Schaefer said the division is continuing to recruit faculty and staff.


Schaefer said the division is working now in a collaborative role with the Cancer Institute and the UAMS Psychiatric Research Institute (PRI). Joining with PRI researchers, the genetics staff are working on a grant to find the best method for assisting physicians in using genetic information for prescribing psychiatric medications that will be the most effective, he said.


Together with the Cancer Institute, Schaefer said the division is working toward establishing clinical programs for patient counseling regarding cancer risk based on genetic test results.


For some cancers — especially colon, breast, ovarian or uterine — a family history can be one of the best indicators of its occurrence.


“Knowledge is power and through cancer genetics we’ve been able to give patients choices for making a more informed decision about preventative care,” McKelvey said.


Schaefer said that across medicine, genetics are improving care. Genetic information is informing parents-to-be of the risk their child will have for certain diseases, for example.


In recent years at the UAMS Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, researchers reported that multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood’s plasma, had seven genetic subtypes that have a bearing on a patient’s prognosis. In 2007, a research team reported development of a genetic analysis model for identifying patients with aggressive multiple myeloma.


Schaefer pointed to a 2007 announcement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concerning the widely used blood thinner warfarin as more evidence of the important and increasing role of genetics in medicine. The FDA approved updated labeling to explain that a people’s genetic makeup may influence how they respond to the drug.


Schaefer also will serve as chief of genetics and metabolism in the College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics. In addition, he will continue as medical director for the Department of Genetic Counseling in the UAMS College of Health Related Professions, a position he held as an adjunct professor while at UNMC.


At UNMC, Schaefer was the Omaha Scottish Rite, Masonic Professor of Child Health. He directed the Hattie B. Munroe Center for Human Genetics and served as associate director of the Munroe-Meyer Institute for Genetics and Rehabilitation since1997 and as chief of the Human Genetics Section in the Department of Pediatrics at UNMC since1992.


McKelvey, a 1996 UAMS graduate, joined the UAMS faculty in 2003 as an assistant professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine in the College of Medicine.


UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, six centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has 2,538 students and 733 medical residents. Its centers of excellence include the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute and the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. It is one of the state’s largest public employers with about 9,600 employees, including nearly 1,150 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $5 billion a year. Visit