The Greenwood Genetic Center (GGC), with its home campus in small-town Greenwood, SC is an unusual player in the field of genetic services and research. Not part of a large university or teaching hospital, this nonprofit organization has been quietly making important advances in the fields of intellectual disability, birth defects, and autism for over 40 years.
GGC was founded in 1974 with a philosophy of ensuring the most accessible and compassionate care for patients who need genetics services while maintaining state-of-the-art facilities and technologies. The Center continues to operate under those founding principles by providing accessible clinical services across SC, the most advanced diagnostic technologies, cutting-edge research and providing innovative educational programs from middle school to postgraduate work.
Thanks to GGC, SC boasts the highest number of geneticists per capita of any state. With 14 MD clinical geneticists and 21 PhD scientists, along with genetic counselors, dietitians, and bioinformaticists, the Center serves 6,000 families each year through genetics clinics in Charleston, Columbia, Florence, Greenville, and Greenwood, and 30,000 samples are evaluated in the diagnostic laboratories to diagnose chromosomal, single gene, and metabolic conditions.
One of the Center’s most successful and visible programs has been the SC Birth Defect Prevention Program. Started in 1992, this program has led to a decline of severe birth defects of the brain and spine by 60% through educational outreach to women about the importance of taking folic acid before and during pregnancy.
Since 2002, GGC has focused its work and research around treatment for genetic disorders. The Center is involved in many clinical trials, and has two metabolic disease treatment teams that collaborate with SC’s newborn screening program to diagnose and manage treatment for inherited metabolic disorders. Over 200 patients are currently involved in metabolic treatment programs at GGC, receiving dietary therapies, supplementation, and other treatments to prevent and ameliorate the symptoms of these rare disorders.
GGC’s research teams have made major contributions to the field of intellectual disability through the identification of many genes that cause X-linked intellectual disability, as well as through the delineation of some of these disorders including Renpenning, Christianson, and Snyder-Robinson syndromes. Researchers have also developed improved laboratory techniques to diagnose lysosomal storage diseases, and have discovered metabolic disturbances in autism spectrum disorders. The Center’s current autism work has two goals – to develop a blood-based test for autism and to use that knowledge to formulate a medical treatment strategy. GGC is working in collaboration with Project Hope Foundation through ‘Helix & Hope’ a joint effort to advance research and services for families impacted by autism.
Through varied educational programs, GGC provides outreach education to middle and high school students through the Gene Machine Mobile Science Laboratory program which provides genetics instruction and career information to approximately 7,000 students statewide each school year. The Center is also home to postgraduate training programs in laboratory genetics as well as a clinical genetics residency.