Pharmacogenomics & Precision Medicine

September 17, 2021

Grant creates center for maternal, pediatric precision therapeutics

Vanderbilt University Medical Center has been awarded a five-year, $6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to serve as a center of excellence for Maternal and Pediatric Precision in Therapeutics.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center has been awarded a five-year, $6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to serve as a center of excellence for Maternal and Pediatric Precision in Therapeutics (MPRINT).

Vanderbilt will join University of California San Diego, Ohio State University, and Indiana University to form the new Maternal and Pediatric Precision in Therapeutics Hub. These four institutions, funded by the NIH, will work together to serve as a national resource to expand knowledge and expertise in maternal and pediatric pharmacology.

Co-directed by Prince Kannankeril, MD, MSCI, professor of Pediatrics, and Sara Van Driest, MD, PhD, associate professor of Pediatrics and Medicine, from Vanderbilt’s Department of Pediatrics, the Vanderbilt center aims to study how to improve the implementation of precision therapeutics, or personalized medicine, for pregnant women and children and explore long-term outcomes for the two populations.

“Maternal and pediatric precision therapeutics is an understudied area,” said Kannankeril, who is a clinical pediatric cardiologist and electrophysiologist. “We want to be able to give pregnant women and children the right drug, at the right dose, at the right time — not the drug that seems to be the right dose for the majority of the population. There are things specific to us as individuals — age, genetic background, pregnancy, breastfeeding — that may make a drug act differently in one body compared to others.”

Vanderbilt’s MPRINT center will launch with two simultaneous projects. One, led by Van Driest and Digna Velez Edwards, PhD, associate professor of Obstetrics, will seek to close gaps in pharmacogenomics applications for women and children. A part of this work will be to perform clinical PREDICT (Pharmacogenomic Resource for Enhanced Decisions in Care and Treatment) testing to help guide the prescribing of commonly used medications, such as antidepressants and pain control medicines.

Historically, pharmacogenetics — how differences in one’s genes affect response to a medication — is not well studied in pregnant women and children, and the team hopes to gain better insights to build on health care’s increasing focus to personalize drug therapies and create individual treatment plans.

The second project, led by Stephen Patrick, MD, MPH, associate professor of Pediatrics and Health Policy, will bring together electronic health records and additional databases to evaluate the effectiveness of medications used to treat opioid use disorder in pregnant women. The project will shed light on how these treatments impact long-term outcomes for the mother and baby.

Both of the Vanderbilt projects will be supported by the Phenotyping Core, led by Wei-Qi Wei, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Biomedical Informatics, who has expertise in using electronic health records and techniques like machine learning to better understand response to medications.

Van Driest has long worked on precision medicine and personalized care in pediatrics using large data sources like electronic health medical records and DNA sequencing to predict and improve children’s response to medications.

The MPRINT Hub, she said, will serve as a network to help evaluate and potentially influence therapeutics for both women during pregnancy and children throughout childhood.

“During childhood and during pregnancy, the patient changes an enormous amount. At the same time, we have very little data to guide how we should incorporate those changes into our prescribing,” said Van Driest. “We’re really excited to be able to make some strides forward in understanding how these tremendous changes during pregnancy and during childhood guide our medication choices.”

The MPRINT grant also builds off the foundational work already in place with the existing Center for Pediatric Precision Medicine, led by Kannankeril and Van Driest.

That initiative launched in 2020 to support evidence-based, individualized diagnosis and treatment approaches for children.

With the MPRINT grant funding, the center also will have a focus on training and mentoring, and each year will support early career investigators in research projects around genomics and precision medicine.

The Maternal and Pediatric Precision in Therapeutics Center of Excellence at Vanderbilt is supported by funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (grant P50HD106446-01).