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Genetic screening laboratory opens

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Timothy Donlon has opened Ohana Genetics, which provides cytogenetic tests that diagnose diseases such as cancer and leukemia. On the screen behind him is a karyotype, or image of chromosomes.
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A Honolulu-based geneticist has opened the state’s only laboratory to do genetic testing for chromosomal abnormalities, a specialized screening that typically takes two weeks, including time to send samples to the mainland.

Timothy Donlon launched Ohana Genetics to reduce turnaround time of cytogenetic tests, which examine cells and chromosomes to diagnose diseases, to between two to three days, he said.

The service is particularly of interest to people awaiting a diagnosis for a serious disease, such as cancer or leukemia.

"Here it’s awful; you can imagine having to wait that long for a diagnosis," said Donlon, who is spending nearly $1 million to establish the lab, which opened Jan. 3 in the Medical Arts Building on South King Street.

He is negotiating contracts with a number of clients and is already screening samples from Tripler Army Medical Center and Kuakini Medical Center, where he oversees its research genetics lab.

"You’re getting your diagnosis earlier, so whatever needs to be done, that can be started sooner," said Donda Spiker, Kuakini spokeswoman. "It’s a timesaver, so the quality of life for the patient is improved because they don’t have to wait as long."

Donlon, who previously directed a genetics lab at the Queen’s Medical Center, has been a geneticist for 33 years, and completed a specialized certification through the American College of Medical Genetics. The lab is certified by the state’s Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act program, which monitors testing license requirements.

"The goal is to keep everything from becoming outsourced to the mainland and retain technology jobs in Hawaii," he said.

The clinic has four employees. Donlon plans to hire another four workers in the next year.

Other local providers such as Clinical Laboratories of Hawaii LLP and Diagnostic Laboratory Services Inc. use molecular methods to screen for infectious diseases and do not test for inherited genetic conditions. Queen’s also does DNA testing, focusing on cancer patients. It closed its genetics lab last April.

"This is very specialized, what Dr. Donlon is running," said Matthew Bankowski, director for the clinical and molecular microbiology and infectious disease lab at Diagnostic Laboratory Services. "We do genetic testing in the sense of looking at genes of bacteria viruses. He can look for specific mutations in human cells."

Donlon will be part of a Hawaii Public Television NOVA episode called "Can We Slow Aging?" on Wednesday about a gene that allows researchers to identify people who will likely live to an extreme old age.

He and a group of Kuakini researchers discovered the gene after collecting blood samples since 1965 from local Japanese men as part of the Honolulu Heart program.

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