College part of national efforts to advance precision medicine

November 1, 2017

The College of Community Health Sciences is participating in a nationwide network of academic and health-care institutions charged with implementing the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program, an effort to advance research into precision medicine. The overall project seeks to enroll one million individuals living in the US and gather their health information and other data over time, with the ultimate goal of accelerating research and improving health. Researchers will use the data for studies on a variety of health conditions to learn more about the impact of individual differences in lifestyle, environment and biological makeup. By taking into account individual differences in lifestyle, environment and biology, researchers hope to find ways to deliver precision medicine. The College, through its University Medical Center, is an awardee of a part of the program known as the Southern All of Us Network (see list of awardees below). Combined, the awardees will receive $13.8 million from NIH. “This is the project that will change the way we practice medicine in the future,” says Dr. John C. Higginbotham, associate dean for Research and Health Policy for CCHS and associate vice president for Research for The University of Alabama. CCHS has been asked to enroll 400 individuals into the All of Us Research Program in the first year, says Higginbotham, who is coordinating the College’s efforts along with Dr. Tom Weida, the College’s associate dean for Clinical Affairs. “We will be collecting data and following these folks for 10 years,” Weida says. “This is on the forefront of precision medicine and this is where medicine is going. We’re staying on the forefront of how we deliver care and the type of care we deliver.” According to the NIH, precision medicine is “an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment and lifestyle.” This approach allows doctors and researchers to predict more accurately which treatment and prevention strategies for a particular disease will work in which groups of people, in contrast to a one-size-fits-all approach with treatment and prevention strategies developed for the average person with less consideration for individual differences. According to the NIH, All of Us participants will extend the geographic coverage of the program and strengthen its reach within underserved communities, including lower-income, Hispanic and Latino, African-American, rural and American Indian communities. “We want this program to reflect the rich diversity of our country,” says Eric Dishman, director of the All of Us Research Program at NIH. “Expanding our national network of health care provider organizations enhances our ability to reach communities traditionally underrepresented in medical research. Working with participants across the country, we hope to contribute to medical breakthroughs that may lead to more tailored disease prevention and treatment solutions in the future.” Adds Higginbotham: “This program will be a catalyst for innovative research and policies.” Awardees include: Southern All of Us Network: University of Alabama at Birmingham; Cooper Green Mercy Hospital, Birmingham, Alabama; Huntsville Hospital, Alabama; Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, New Orleans; Tulane Medical Center, New Orleans; Tuskegee University, Alabama; UAB Hospital, Birmingham, Alabama; UAB School of Medicine’s Montgomery Internal Medicine and Selma Family Medicine programs, Birmingham, Alabama; University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson; University of South Alabama Health System, Mobile; and The University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences/University Medical Center, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. SouthEast Enrollment Center: University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Florida; Emory University, Atlanta; Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta; and the OneFlorida Clinical Research Consortium led by the University of Florida in Gainesville. All of Us Wisconsin: Marshfield Clinic Research Institute; BloodCenter of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.   Note: The All of Us Research Program plans to continue building the network of health care provider organizations over time to engage a large participant community that reflects the geographic, ethnic, racial and socioeconomic diversity of the country. The network will include regional medical center, community health centers and medical centers operated by the US Department of Veterans Affairs.