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VUMC lands major pharmacogenomics grant

Jul. 9, 2015, 9:53 AM

Vanderbilt University Medical Center has received a five-year, $12.8-million grant from the federal government to develop better ways to predict how patients will respond to the drugs they’re given.

“Our goal is to understand the fundamental mechanisms putting patients at risk for severe adverse drug reactions and, more broadly, to predict how individual patients will respond to drug therapy,” said Dan Roden, M.D., assistant vice chancellor for Personalized Medicine and the William Stokes Professor of Experimental Therapeutics.

Roden and co-principal investigators Josh Denny, M.D., M.S., and Elizabeth Phillips, M.D., are internationally known for their contributions to precision medicine and pharmacogenomics, how genetic variations affect individual responses to medication.

Vanderbilt’s is one of three “P50” grants awarded June 29 by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to establish specialized research centers for pharmacogenomics in precision medicine.

Another grant went to Mary Relling, Pharm.D., at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and Mignon Loh, M.D., of the University of California, San Francisco, and the third to Ronald Krauss, M.D., of the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, and Aldons Lusis, Ph.D., at the University of California at Los Angeles.

“These grants are key elements of the NIH Pharmacogenomics Research Network (PGRN), a network of scientific groups focused on understanding how a person’s genes affect his or her responses to medicines,” said NIGMS’ Rochelle Long, Ph.D., who directs the program.

“The new centers will pursue a range of basic, clinical, and translational research, that will contribute to a fundamental understanding of how to use drugs safely and effectively, which is an important aspect of precision medicine.”

Roden, Relling and Kraus have been principal investigators in the PGRN.

Through the Vanderbilt PGRN, Roden has led studies of the response to drugs given to treat arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythms). His project under the new grant will compare heart cells from patients with and without abnormal heart rhythms.

Phillips, the John A. Oates Professor of Clinical Research, professor of Medicine and Pharmacology and director of personalized immunology in the Oates Institute for Experimental Therapeutics, will lead a drug hypersensitivity project in the new center.

Denny, associate professor of Biomedical Informatics and Medicine, will develop methods to “phenome scan” the electronic health records for clues that can help identify and predict both adverse and beneficial drug actions. The phenome describes physical and behavioral characteristics determined by the interaction of genes and environment.

“The studies we will conduct … use state-of-the-art technologies in genomics, stem cell biology and phenome scanning in the electronic medical record,” Roden said. “There are very few institutions anywhere in the world that have the capabilities to execute this broad set of studies.”

Denny is a member of the Precision Medicine Initiative Working Group of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director, which held a public workshop at Vanderbilt in May.

Roden is principal investigator of BioVU, which, with more than 200,000 unique samples of DNA and other biological materials, is one of the world’s leading bio-banks supporting genomic and genetic research. Last year Roden was appointed to the National Advisory Council for Human Genome Research of the NIH.

Other Vanderbilt faculty members involved in the center funded by NIH grant GM115305 are Todd Edwards, M.S., Ph.D., Charles Hong, M.D., Ph.D., Bjorn Knollmann, M.D., Ph.D., Simon Mallal, MBBS, Digna Velez-Edwards, M.S., Ph.D., Wei-Qi Wei, M.Med., Ph.D., Yaomin Xu, Ph.D., and Tao Yang, Ph.D.

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