NIH Funds Precision Medicine Research With a Focus on Health Disparities

Posted on July 29, 2016

The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), part of the National Institutes of Health, has committed approximately $31 million over five years, pending available funding, to launch a new program for Transdisciplinary Collaborative Centers (TCCs) for health disparities research exploring the potential for precision medicine to promote health equity and advance the science of minority health and health disparities.

Priority research areas for NIMHD’s precision medicine initiative include:

-Development of new tools and analytic methods for integrating patient data with information about contextual factors acting at the community or population level to influence health outcomes

-Development of pharmacogenomic and other precision medicine tools to identify critical biomarkers for disease progression and drug responses in diverse populations

-Translation of pharmacogenomic discoveries into clinical practice including effective treatments

-Investigation of facilitators and barriers to implementing precision medicine approaches in disparity populations

-Understanding mechanisms that lead to differential health outcomes in common diseases in minorities and disparity populations

Although scientific and technological advances have improved the health of the US population overall, racial/ethnic minority populations, socioeconomically disadvantaged populations and rural populations continue to experience a disproportionate share of many diseases and adverse health conditions. As the Nation’s steward of biomedical and behavioral research, NIH has devoted considerable resources to characterize the root causes of health disparities, uncovering complex webs of interconnected factors (eg, biological, behavioral, social and environmental factors) acting at multiple levels across the life course. As an important next step, research is needed that capitalizes on this knowledge to develop interventions that reduce or eliminate health disparities.

Designed for broad impact, TCCs comprise regional coalitions of research institutions and partners working together to develop and disseminate effective health interventions that can be implemented in real-world settings. TCCs supported through this initiative are expected to focus on at least one priority research area, each combining expertise in precision medicine, population health disparities, and the science of translation, implementation and dissemination to address one or more documented health disparities. The proposed work must focus on one or more health disparities populations, which include Blacks/African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, American Indians/Alaska Natives, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, socioeconomically disadvantaged populations and rural populations. Each center will support 2 to 3 multidisciplinary research projects examining complementary aspects of precision medicine, focusing on interactions between biological, behavioral and contextual predictors of disease vulnerability, resilience and response to therapies in patients from disadvantaged communities.

Benefits of medical advances are not always distributed equitably, often because structural or systemic factors limit the effectiveness of new diagnostic or therapeutic approaches in disadvantaged populations. Precision medicine is an emerging approach for disease prevention, early detection and treatment that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, demographic factors, social determinants and lifestyle. While it holds great promise for improving patient care, its potential for reducing health disparities hinges on better understanding of the dynamic interplay between biological, behavioral, social and environmental health risk and protective factors experienced across the life course, coupled with greater inclusion of health disparity populations in research aimed at developing precision medicine interventions.

The approach of this new program, which focuses on health disparity populations, including racial and ethnic minorities, rural populations and low socioeconomic populations, shares the transformative vision represented by President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI), which supports the NIH’s recently implemented PMI Cohort Program, a nationwide effort which seeks to build a longitudinal research cohort of 1 million or more U.S. volunteers, to produce new knowledge with the goal of developing more effective ways to prolong health and treat disease.

“The core values of the President’s PMI challenge the scientific community to advance population health in ways that create true benefits to all populations,” said NIMHD Director Dr. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable. “Precision medicine research endeavors must go beyond biologic and clinical markers and include social determinants of health, such as the economic, social and political conditions that influence health status. Ultimately, the TCCs  will generate new knowledge about precision medicine that resonates from the community level to the national population level.”

The first precision medicine TCC cooperative agreement awards, each providing up to $1.5 million in direct costs annually over five years (plus applicable indirect costs), have been made to the following academic institutions:

Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee

Project Title: Center of Excellence in Precision Medicine and Population Health

Principal Investigator: Consuelo Hopkins Wilkins

Grant: 1 U54MD010722-01 MP1

Dr. Wilkins and colleagues will establish a Center of Excellence in Precision Medicine and Population Health in order to identify genetic and phenotype markers representative of lifetime risks and outcomes for asthma, pre-term birth, cancer and Body Mass Index in African American and Hispanics/Latino populations.

Stanford University, Palo Alto, California

Project Title: Stanford Precision Health for Ethnic and Racial Equity (SPHERE) Transdisciplinary Collaborative Center

Principal Investigator: Mark Richard Cullen

Grant: 1 U54MD010724-01 MPI

Dr. Cullen and his team will establish the SPHERE Transdisciplinary Collaboration Center to address multiple health outcomes such as type 2 diabetes and breast cancer in American Indian, Hispanic/Latino and Chinese populations.

Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston

Project Title: Medical University of South Carolina Transdisciplinary Collaborative Center in Precision Medicine and Minority Men's Health

Principal Investigator: Chanita A. Hughes-Halbert

Grant: 1U54MD010706-01

Dr. Hughes-Halbert and colleagues will establish a center focused on minority men's health to determine the most effective ways to integrate, interpret and apply biological, social, psychological and clinical determinants of disease risks and outcomes into more precise medical strategies to prevent, diagnose and treat chronic health conditions and diseases.

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