Tech & Health

November 18, 2020

Peterson tapped to direct VUMC’s Center for Precision Medicine

Josh Peterson, MD, MPH

Josh Peterson, MD, MPH, professor of Biomedical Informatics and Medicine, has been named director of the Center for Precision Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, effective since Oct. 1.

The center is VUMC’s hub for interdisciplinary research in precision medicine. Housed within the Department of Biomedical Informatics, it was founded in 2015 by Joshua Denny, MD, MS, who in January transitioned to adjunct faculty status and moved to Washington, D.C., to assume leadership of the federal government’s massive precision medicine initiative, the All of Us Research Program.

Peterson, who joined the VUMC faculty in 2002, is one of two principal investigators (the other is at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts) who run the national coordinating center of the eMERGE Genomic Risk Assessment and Management Network, a program of the National Human Genome Research Institute (under a separate research grant, VUMC is also a network site). He’s also a principal investigator within the IGNITE Pragmatic Clinical Trials Network and one of three directors of the Vanderbilt Genomic Medicine Training Program.

Peterson was selected through a national search led by Paul Harris, PhD, professor of Biomedical Informatics. In his new role, Peterson reports to Kevin Johnson, MD, MS, professor and chair of Biomedical Informatics and informatician-in-chief at VUMC, who himself served as interim director of the center during the leadership search.

“This is one of the most important positions at VUMC, where personalized medicine has emerged as a fundamental part of our identity,” Johnson said. “Josh is clearly an international leader in translational informatics and in precision medicine, and we are thrilled to have him as the new director.”

The center brings together 25 faculty members from fields such as biomedical informatics, genetic medicine, epidemiology, clinical pharmacology, pediatrics, oncology and more. It houses two shared VUMC research facilities, or “cores,” offering services to investigators across the institution and nationally: the new Precision Phenotyping Core, under scientific director Wei-Qi Wei, MD, PhD, and the PheWAS Core, under scientific director Lisa Bastarache, MS. (The phenome-wide association study, or PheWAS, is a research methodology that originated in a 2010 paper from VUMC.) A calling card of the center has been its leading role internationally in the science of inferring patient features, or phenotypes, through computational means using electronic health records.

Though the term “precision medicine” predates the 2015 announcement by President Barack Obama of the Precision Medicine Initiative (which became the All of Us Research Program), Peterson dates the term’s popularization to that announcement. Precision medicine, says Peterson, is a new medical model “designed to tailor treatment and preventative strategies to individual attributes, particularly those that are associated with structured or quantitative values. It’s about using data that normally has not been available to clinicians at the point of care, giving them new abilities to predict events or uncover susceptibilities that are otherwise hidden.”

Precision medicine has been closely tied to genomic medicine, he said, “But the implication of the term is much broader than that and includes the concept that we could use more precise measurements of individuals’ environment, lifestyle and social determinants of health when making clinical decisions.”

The field of precision medicine is still wide open, he said.

“There are many precision medicine techniques being developed by the center faculty that have not yet moved to the point of care. As an institution, we should be at the forefront of this translation, because Vanderbilt was so instrumental in developing these techniques to begin with.”

By way of distinction from precision medicine, personalized medicine, says Peterson, “adds the concept that we should be delivering care that is sensitive to patients’ preferences in addition to their biology.”

The center lists 42 alumni and eight current trainees/fellows. The center’s advisory board includes Johnson, Gordon Bernard, MD, Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Research, Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, Executive Vice President for Research, Kimryn Rathmell, MD, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Medicine, and Dan Roden, MD, Senior Vice President for Personalized Medicine. n