U-M to Help White House, NIH Advance Precision Medicine

U-M to Help White House, NIH Advance Precision Medicine

  • A tool that helps determine if someone with diabetes can manage better with drugs or diet and exercise.
  • A 3-D printer that created a personalized implantable tracheal splint for an infant who stopped breathing every day.
  • Massive genetics studies to better understand diseases like diabetes, obesity, and macular degeneration that involve the coordination of hundreds of scientists and tens-of-thousands of participants across the globe.

These are among the lifesaving and life-changing contributions by U-M scientists that demonstrate Michigan's leadership in a growing field known as precision medicine. Using data about lifestyle, medical history, environment, and genetics, precision medicine essentially works to prevent and treat disease one person at a time.

A national Precision Medicine Initiative—announced in 2015 by President Barack Obama and funded last July by the National Institutes of Health—dedicates $55 million to create four program areas: a Data and Research Support Center, Participant Technologies Centers, a Healthcare Provider Organizations network, and a Biobank.

The U-M School of Public Health was named one of four sub-awardees that will work with the Data and Research Support Center at Vanderbilt University to mine and organize data and create the tools to analyze it, while protecting those who share it. The nationwide goal is to obtain the DNA and relevant health information from one million people.

"The goal is to make sure scientists can ask questions about the role of particular genes," says Gonçalo Abecasis, the Felix E. Moore Collegiate Professor of Biostatistics and director of the biostatistics department at the School of Public Health. Abecasis, his lab, and other faculty in SPH and across U-M have been involved with hundreds of genetic studies—either directly or because researchers have used software and other tools for genetic analysis that were developed at Michigan.

Abecasis was a leader of the well-known 1000 Genomes Project, an international effort to catalogue human genetic variation. He has made contributions to better understanding conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, psoriasis, and macular degeneration.

The NIH announcement coincides with U-M efforts to develop its own strategy around how to advance precision medicine work across its campuses. Michigan's current areas of expertise include precision oncology, drug development and targeted therapies, obesity research, health outcomes research and analysis, social research, and new approaches to big data.

In announcing the awards, NIH Director Francis Collins said, "Over time, data provided by participants will help us answer important health questions, such as why some people with elevated genetic and environmental risk factors for disease still manage to maintain good health, and how people suffering from a chronic illness can maintain the highest possible quality of life. The more we understand about individual differences, the better able we will be to effectively prevent and treat illness."

Laurel Thomas