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Mayo Clinic Joins Obesity Biobanking Registry, Study

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   July 26, 2022

The Minnesota-based health system is taking part in a massive data-gathering project aimed at understanding how to diagnose and treat obesity.

The Mayo Clinic is taking part in a massive data collection program aimed at unlocking the root causes of obesity and developing effective treatments.

The Minnesota-based health system is participating in a biobanking registry developed by Phenomix Sciences, a biotech company developed by Mayo Clinic researchers and launched out of the American Medical Association's Health2047 subsidiary in 2021, and will be participating in an outcomes study aimed at monitoring phenotypes in patients being treated for obesity.

Experts say that obesity rates have doubled over the past two decades, with roughly 42% of the American adult population now fitting that description, and they anticipate that half of the world's population will be obese by 2030. Obese Americans run a much high risk of developing chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease, and they account for roughly $480 billion in annual direct healthcare costs.

Yet the healthcare industry has long struggled to define obesity.

"Obesity has not been traditionally seen as a disease," says Maria Daniela Hurtado Andrade, MD, PhD, a specialist in endocrinology with the Mayo Clinic and part of the research team. "That limits treatment options" as well as how payers view treatments. "Our goal is to collect all this data to understand how it can lead to a very good understanding of predictors to weight loss and weight loss interventions."

The biobank registry collects biological and clinical data from patients, including DNA, metabolomics, hormones and observational information such as behavioral assessments. The data will help researchers gain a better picture of obesity, and has already been instrumental in mapping out four specific obesity phenotypes.

The Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus is contributing patient outcomes from 2,000 patients undergoing treatment for obesity to the biobank, and it will be participating in the nationwide study aimed at monitoring the phenotypes of patients undergoing a variety of treatments in health systems across the country.

Hurtado sees biobank registries as the next step in the ever-growing precision medicine movement, which aims to not only perfect the gathering of individual data but design treatments that address specific patients or groups of patients.

From that point, researchers focus on phenotypes, or the combination of genes and environmental and behavioral factors that cause certain conditions. Hurtado calls this activity of studying and mapping the function of genes "the Snapchat of the state of health."

"We don’t have that understanding of obesity yet," she says, because the healthcare industry has been slow to characterize it as a disease. "Too many [providers] have a view of obesity as 'You caused it.' They don't see it like they see cancer" or other chronic conditions like diabetes, asthma, and COPD.

According to Phenomix and the Mayo Clinic, there's a movement within healthcare to take obesity more seriously and classify it as a chronic condition, caused by not one specific disease but "a constellation of diseases." While its roots may lie in the DNA, they feel that outside factors including age, race, gender, education, and socioeconomic status also have an impact.

Hurtado says the partnership between Phenomix and the Mayo Clinic is important because it legitimizes the biobank at a time when other research institutes may be developing their own resources, which in turn leads to data silos that hinder research. Officials hope the Mayo Clinic's participation will spur other health systems to join.

“This is an exciting time in the evolution of obesity medicine,” Mark Bagnall, CEO of Phenomix Sciences, said in a May press release announcing the Mayo Clinic partnership. “Our biobanking agreement with Mayo Clinic is an important opportunity to make vast strides in how we understand the complexities of obesity treatment. We believe the biobanking registry investment will better support obesity centers by providing concrete evidence and insights into how DNA and other factors need to be considered in treatment. The upside is significant for patients and payers. Patients get the right treatment the first time and payers avoid paying for a costly trial-and-error approach.”

Hurtado says both the registry and study will be "life-changing."

"In the past, treating obesity has been like shooting in the dark," she says. "Now we're beginning to take it seriously. This will lead to positive outcomes in treatment, which will make payers take interest ... and become more open to coverage."

“Obesity has not been traditionally seen as a disease. That limits treatment options [as well as how payers view treatments]. Our goal is to collect all this data to understand how it can lead to a very good understanding of predictors to weight loss and weight loss interventions.”

Eric Wicklund is the Innovation and Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Obesity affects roughly 42 percent of the American population, is a precursor to a wide range of chronic conditions and accounts for roughly $480 billion in healthcare spending each year.

The Mayo Clinic and Phenomix Sciences are partnering on a biobanking registry aimed at collecting data from patients dealing with obesity and a national study to monitor phenotypes in patients undergoing treatments for obesity.

Experts say the project should offer new insights into how obesity is caused and how it may be treated.


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