Moving forward: U-M leading way in precision medicine

July 25, 2016  //  FOUND IN: News,

precision researchSome truths in medicine are self-evident. Every patient is different. Every disease is different. But what physicians and researchers have only begun to fully realize is that every patient’s disease is different. The more physicians know about an individual, the better they can treat him or her — a process that falls within the groundbreaking approach known as precision medicine.

In essence, precision medicine approaches disease treatment and prevention by taking into account a variety of factors for each individual patient, including things like medical history, lifestyle choices, environmental factors and genetic makeup.

By delving more fully into the details of a person’s unique life picture, doctors can prescribe and implement the ideal treatment program tailored specifically for the patient. The information is voluntarily given by patients who consent to the data’s use in research.

U-M and UMHS researchers provide leadership and cutting-edge work in precision medicine by carrying out massive genetics studies to better understand diseases — work that involves hundreds of scientists and thousands of patients across the globe.

“The goal is to make sure scientists can ask questions about the role of particular genes [in health outcomes],” said Goncalo Abecasis, the Felix E. Moore Collegiate Professor of Biostatistics and director of the Biostatistics Department in the U-M School of Public Health. “We are going to create tools to make it easy for them to ask those questions and get answers from the data, while keeping patient records safe.”

Using such data, U-M scientists helped create a method that can determine whether someone with diabetes could better manage the disease with drugs versus diet and exercise. The university has also made contributions toward better understanding conditions such as heart disease, psoriasis and macular degeneration.

U-M to team with the NIH

U-M is currently making connections across areas such as precision oncology, drug development and targeted therapies, health outcomes research and analysis, social research and new approaches to big data.

School President Mark Schlissel has placed an emphasis on precision medicine, calling upon “our faculty’s culture of innovation and collaboration,” to create a unified focus across all U-M campuses, including the medical school and health system. “The goal of this initiative is to make U-M a powerhouse in the biosciences, a global leader in discovery and societal impact,” Schlissel said.

In that light, the university will play a major role in a nationwide effort to gather and mine health information to advance the causes of precision medicine.

A national initiative supported by President Barack Obama and funded this month by the National Institutes of Health, dedicates $55 million to the field.

As part of the NIH initiative, the U-M School of Public Health was named one of four sub-awardees. The school will work to collect and organize data, create tools to analyze it and protect the patients who share it.

Through the NIH initiative, the university is positioned to continue its role as a national leader in biomedical innovation and health care reform.

“This initiative is completely in line with U-M’s approach,” said Sachin Kheterpal, M.D., associate professor of anesthesiology. Dr. Kheterpal was appointed to the NIH Precision Medicine Initiative advisory panel by NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins.

Kheterpal added: “As a public institution, U-M is positioned to have public health as its priority and that’s the foundation of precision medicine — putting [patients] at the center.”