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Data-driven future of health care takes center stage at event

Sep. 29, 2016, 9:01 AM

Verily Life Sciences’ David Glazer was the keynote speaker at last week’s Personalized Medicine Day. (photo by Daniel Dubois)
Verily Life Sciences’ David Glazer was the keynote speaker at last week’s Personalized Medicine Day. (photo by Daniel Dubois)

“Someone in the NIH found the gas pedal and stepped on it,” said the keynote speaker for Personalized Medicine Day, held Sept. 23 at the Student Life Center. David Glazer, director of engineering at Verily Life Sciences, was remarking on the unusual velocity and momentum of the National Institutes of Health’s new Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI).

President Obama announced the initiative in his 2015 State of the Union Address.

The program will begin enrolling participants later this year, seeking to create a personalized medicine research cohort of more than 1 million Americans.

The intersection of biomedicine and data science keeps getting busier.

To predict and prevent disease, medical research is turning to newly available forms of population data: electronic health records, genetic data from biorepositories, medical images, environmental and behavioral data. Big data. And Vanderbilt, with its strengths in biomedical informatics, pharmacogenomics and related disciplines, is at the center of the excitement.

Vanderbilt leads the PMI Data and Research Support Center, working with Verily (a division of Alphabet, the company formerly known as Google), the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and others. To establish and operate the center, a five-year $72 million grant from the NIH to Vanderbilt was announced in July.

Personalized Medicine Day, which is now in its second year, was hosted by Dan Roden, M.D., Senior Vice President for Personalized Medicine.

The event drew some 300 faculty, students and guests, who got a peek at plans for the PMI, including how cohort data and biospecimens will be gathered, secured, organized and made broadly available (in de-identified form) for research.

Glazer said he sometimes gets asked, “‘Why is Google doing this at all? Why is a company in your business interested in part of this project?’ Well, we have an opportunity collectively to really set a precedent for what 21st century data-driven health care can look like, and that’s the most exciting part about PMI.”

That the project stands to have a significant influence was a view shared by the day’s first speaker, the director of the Data and Research Support Center, Josh Denny, M.D., M.S., associate professor of Biomedical Informatics and Medicine. In solving, for example, how best to integrate electronic health record data from diverse institutions for research purposes, Denny said the project will contribute to solving the same data issue for clinical care (which could help allow patients to move between different providers more safely and efficiently).

Consuelo Wilkins, M.D., MSCI, associate professor of Medicine and director of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance, spoke on “Health Equity and Personalized Medicine.” She outlined how the PMI will ensure diversity among research volunteers.

The PMI wasn’t the whole show at Personalized Medicine Day, however. Simon Mallal, MBBS, Major E.B. Stahlman Professor of Infectious Diseases and Inflammation, spoke on lessons from the effort to develop and implement screening for hypersensitivity to the antiretroviral drug abacavir.

More than 20 research teams were represented in poster sessions devoted to various personalized medicine studies. And topics for the day’s two panel discussions were, “You Have a Genetic Variant: What Are the Next Steps,” and, “Big Data Beyond Disease Genomics.”

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