White House Announces UA's Involvement in National Precision Medicine Initiative
The University of Arizona Health Sciences will commit significant resources to precision medicine under the nationwide Precision Medicine Initiative.

University of Arizona Health Sciences Office of Public Affairs
Feb. 25, 2016

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The University of Arizona Health Sciences will participate in the national Precision Medicine Initiative.
The University of Arizona Health Sciences will participate in the national Precision Medicine Initiative.

The White House announced on Thursday that University of Arizona Health Sciences is participating in the national Precision Medicine Initiative, which will pioneer a new model of patient-powered research that promises to accelerate biomedical discoveries.

Launched in January 2015 by U.S. President Barack Obama, the Precision Medicine Initiative is a bold new research effort to usher in "a new era of medicine that delivers the right treatment at the right time to the right person," according to the White House.

The initiative will also provide clinicians with new tools, knowledge and therapies to select treatments that will work best for individual patients. It will also will make data shareable between health-care providers, researchers, patients and research participants, while protecting patient privacy.

In response to the national initiative, the UA Health Sciences has committed significant resources to expand the clinical utility of its open-source, patient-centric analytic methods, such as the N-of-1-pathways software, which aids physicians in interpreting the dynamic changes of disease-associated gene expression arising from patients’ own DNA blueprints.

As part of the initiative, UAHS will translate large-scale clinical and genomic data into actionable individual outcomes through two of its centers: the UA Center for Biomedical Informatics and Biostatistics and the UA Center for Applied Genetics and Genomic Medicine.

Both centers bring together physicians, scientists, patients and other key stakeholders to develop strategies that advance understanding of the factors contributing to individual health and disease and personalized approaches to disease prevention, early detection and treatment.

"Delivering on the promise of personalized, precision medicine requires us to accelerate the analysis of large data sets in genetics and genomics in support of the clinical decision-making of our multidisciplinary care teams," said Dr. Joe G.N. "Skip" Garcia, the UA's senior vice president for health sciences and the Dr. Merlin K. DuVal Professor of Medicine.

"We have assembled an incredibly talented group of bioinformaticians, geneticists, genomics experts and population health scientists and empowered them with unique resources such as the University's genetics core," said Garcia, also an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, who oversaw creation of the two new centers.

As part of its statewide programs, UAHS is launching three new precision medicine initiatives:

  • System-wide dissemination of an on-demand "case-based reasoning" system that intelligently searches and analyzes entire databases of electronic medical records. This will give clinicians the power to develop an individualized and effective treatment plan for unusual or complex clinical conditions, grounded on practice-based evidence.
  • Development of genetic assays to predict an individual's response to therapy and prevention of adverse reactions, termed "pharmacogenomics."
  • Partnership with five other institutions to advance the Sanford Pediatric Genomics Consortium to help families and their providers improve health-care decision-making through better understanding and integration of genomic evidence.

"Arizona is home to a richly diverse population, providing an ideal environment to build community partnerships for a better understanding of the cultural, ethnic, social and genetic factors influencing health," said Dr. Yves A. Lussier, UAHS associate vice president for health sciences, chief knowledge officer and director of the UA Center for Biomedical Informatics and Biostatistics.

"Currently, therapeutics are designed for ‘average’ populations, however, the truth is that every patient is unique in some way," Lussier said. "These precision medicine initiatives will enable tomorrow’s medicine to deliver individualized treatments."

Lussier will lead the UAHS patient-centric analytical methods and was invited to attend the Precision Medicine Initiative Summit held Thursday in Washington, D.C. UAHS' involvement in the national initiative was initiated and facilitated by Ikbel Achour, who serves as the UA Center for Biomedical Informatics and Biostatistics's director for precision health.

Lussier is an international expert in translational bioinformatics and a pioneer in research informatics techniques, including systems biology, data representation through ontologies and high-throughput methods in personalized medicine. At the UA, he leads efforts to fully develop novel programs in biomedical informatics, computational genomics and precision health. In addition to his directorship of the Center for Biomedical Informatics and Biostatistics, he also is associate director of cancer informatics and precision medicine for the University of Arizona Cancer Center and associate director, informatics, for the UA BIO5 Institute.

Lussier collaborates closely with Dr. Kenneth S. Ramos, associate vice president for precision health sciences, director of the UA Center for Applied Genetics and Genomic Medicine and an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, to advance precision health research and clinical care in Arizona with special emphasis in the adoption of precision medicine approaches and tools to address health disparities.

Extra info

On Feb. 25, U.S. President Barack Obama participated in a panel discussion as part of the White House Precision Medicine Initiative Summit. The summit also featured remarks from patients, researchers and other stakeholders. This event was webcast live at https://www.whitehouse.gov/live/white-house-precision-medicine-initiative-summit.