Tulane University Geneticists Slated for $1 Million in Funding for Disaster Plan

October 31, 2007

Keith Brannon
Phone: (504) 862-8789

Researchers at the Hayward Genetics Center are slated to receive $1 million in funding over five years to come up with a plan to link geneticists and their patients in the event of a disaster like Hurricane Katrina.

The project, funded by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, is part of a larger $5 million program between Tulane and Emory universities. Hayward Genetics Center Director Hans Andersson, lead investigator for the Tulane project, says that local researchers have invaluable lessons for other doctors in facing disasters.

Researchers are coming up with a plan to set up a telecommunications system that would allow Andersson and other geneticists to communicate in a disaster when most other forms of communication are down. One scenario calls for a teleconferencing system comprised of a laptop, a webcam and a satellite modem. The system would allow researchers to plug their laptops into their cars and set up a conferencing system from anywhere.

There are only approximately seven clinical geneticists in the state of Louisiana. This system would allow these geneticists to remotely consult with doctors in other cities who potentially would be treating displaced patients. Biochemical geneticists like Andersson treat patients with inherited metabolic diseases. These patients have a risk of getting catastrophically ill if they aren't on the right medicines or following a careful dietary protocol. "We see these patients regularly the way endocrinologists see diabetics and manage their glucose control," Andersson says. 

A second part of the grant supports using this teleconferencing system to perform patient examinations and consultations at remote sites where genetic specialists are in very short supply. Only two such systems currently exist in the state: one at a residential facility in Pineville, La. , and another at H. P. Long Hospital. Andersson uses the Pineville telemedicine link to monitor care of one of his patients, while the other system is used by Tulane University School of Medicine Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology for distance learning. Plans exist for adding at least one more site in Lafayette soon.

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