By Marcy Norton

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A group of Penn Medicine genetic experts has agreed to play a very sensitive role in a nationwide genetics testing program, which is enrolling thousands of people in an Alzheimer’s study.

The GeneMatch program being conducted by the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix, Arizona is aiming to find a number of people who carry the APOE gene, a key predictor of Alzheimer’s disease. The goal is to test potential treatments that could delay the condition’s onset. But hearing that kind of medical information can be scary. That’s where the Penn Telegenetics Program comes in.

“Our role is to connect a genetic counselor from the University of Pennsylvania with research participants across the U.S.,” says Dr. Angela Bradbury, “to be able to share this very sensitive APOE genotype information.”

The professionals at Penn are trained to counsel patients who receive potentially troubling information, so they will help patients digest the results, and decide whether to continue to participate in the study.

“It can be very hard to learn information about a disease you’re at risk for, if there’s not a lot that people can recommend,” Bradbury says, “or that your doctor can recommend for you to do about it.”

Penn genetics experts will offer the type of counseling patients in far-flung geographic locations may not be able to access locally, helping them deal with the results and decide if they should go on with the study.