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Precision medicine efforts highlighted at NIH workshop

Jun. 4, 2015, 8:33 AM

Vanderbilt’s Josh Denny, M.D., M.S., right, speaks at last week’s National Institutes of Health workshop on the federal Precision Medicine Initiative. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Affirmation of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s high profile in precision medicine came last week when a new working group convened by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) visited Vanderbilt for a two-day public workshop devoted to planning a key component of the federal Precision Medicine Initiative announced earlier this year by President Obama.

VUMC “was the natural place to come for this part of it, because of the strength here,” said Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIH, who attended the May 28-29 workshop.

Collins was referring to VUMC’s expertise and national leadership in DNA biobanking, biomedical informatics and related disciplines and Vanderbilt’s early commitment to and significant investment in precision medicine.

Leading researchers and officials from the nation’s top academic health institutions took part in the workshop, which was also attended by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who spoke of the need to support and expand medical research.

Precision medicine is a data-intensive approach to the understanding and treatment of disease; the initiative seeks to accelerate understanding of individual differences that play a role in health, with the goal of informing better prevention and treatment tailored for each person.

The initiative is seeking to, among other things, establish a group of at least 1 million research volunteers who will share their biological, environmental, lifestyle and behavioral information and tissue samples with qualified researchers in a way that protects participant privacy.

The workshop at Vanderbilt was devoted to the question of how to go about assembling this large research cohort.

Josh Denny, M.D., M.S., associate professor of Biomedical Informatics and Medicine, is among 19 experts in precision medicine and large-scale clinical research chosen for the NIH working group. Collins announced that this summer Denny is spending 70 percent of his effort at the NIH, assisting planning for the initiative.

The initiative will seek to reuse information drawn from electronic medical records, as well as information gathered by existing research programs.

For more information on the federal initiative see the NIH website.

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