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Pitt Receives Prestigious NIH Award to Support Development of Million-Person Precision Medicine Study

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Cynthia Patton

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) today announced $55 million in awards in Fiscal Year 2016, with $4.2 million of that awarded to the University of Pittsburgh to build the foundational partnerships and infrastructure needed to launch the Cohort Program of President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI). The PMI Cohort Program is a landmark longitudinal research effort announced in the 2015 State of the Union address that aims to engage 1 million or more U.S. participants to revolutionize how disease is prevented and treated based on individual differences in lifestyle, environment and genetics.
Over five years, the total amount awarded to Pitt is anticipated to top $46 million, pending progress and availability of funds. Pitt is one of several organizations receiving awards announced today to support a network of Healthcare Provider Organizations (HPO). The HPOs will include regional medical centers, of which Pitt will be one; selected Federally Qualified Health Center pilot sites; and selected VA medical centers. The awards set the NIH on course to begin initial enrollment into the PMI Cohort Program this year, with the aim of meeting its 1 million person enrollment goal by 2020. The NIH awards also will support a Data and Research Support Center and a Participant Technologies Center.
“As an HPO, the University of Pittsburgh, in collaboration with UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center), has an essential role in the PMI Cohort Program, one of the National Institutes of Health’s most ambitious research efforts since the Human Genome Project,” noted Arthur S. Levine, M.D., Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of Medicine. “We are on the cusp of a new era in medicine in which we can apply knowledge in genetics and genomics, combined with lifestyle and environmental data and other disciplines to improve disease prevention strategies and tailor treatment options for everyone,” he added.
Led by Pitt’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) – a collaboration of the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences and UPMC - the Pitt PMI project, called the Precision Approach to healthCARE (PA CARES), will be launched at 11 enrollment sites across the western half of Pennsylvania and neighboring states. In its first year, PA CARES aims to recruit and enroll 10,000 volunteer participants, primarily from CTSI’s Research Participant Registry of more than 103,000 participants as well as an additional 165,000 individuals over the five-year award period.
“This project is a testament to the strength and value of the integrated research resources and expertise we’ve been able to build through CTSI over the past 10 years at Pitt,” said principal investigator Steven E. Reis, M.D., associate vice chancellor for clinical research, Health Sciences, professor of medicine, and CTSI director. “The PMI Cohort Program will provide individuals from across the region, and the nation, with an unprecedented opportunity to contribute to the development of individualized approaches to prevent and treat disease. What we learn now by working together will benefit our children, grandchildren and generations to come.”
“Every patient is different; every patient has a unique story. This comprehensive massive collection of patient information, combined with our advanced analytics approach eventually will enable us to treat each patient in a personalized way to produce the best possible results,” said Steven D. Shapiro, M.D., UPMC’s chief medical and scientific officer.
PMI Cohort Program volunteers will be asked to contribute a wide range of health, environment and lifestyle information. They also will be invited to answer questions about their health history and status, share their genomic and other biological information through simple blood and urine tests, and grant access to their clinical data from electronic health records. 
In addition, mobile health devices and apps will provide lifestyle data and environmental exposures in real time. All of this data acquisition will be accomplished with essential privacy and security safeguards. As partners in the research, participants will have ongoing input into study design and implementation, as well as access to a wide range of their individual and aggregated study results.
“This range of information at the scale of 1 million people from all walks of life will be an unprecedented resource for researchers working to understand all of the factors that influence health and disease,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “Over time, data provided by participants will help us answer important health questions, such as why some people with elevated genetic and environmental risk factors for disease still manage to maintain good health, and how people suffering from a chronic illness can maintain the highest possible quality of life. The more we understand about individual differences, the better able we will be to effectively prevent and treat illness.”
Nearly 50 jobs will be created across Pennsylvania as a result of this grant, in patient recruitment, data collection and processing. Individuals throughout the region wishing to enroll in the CTSI registry can do so at
In addition to Dr. Reis, the Pitt co-investigators are Shyam Visweswaran, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical informatics and director of CTSI informatics, and Oscar Marroquin, M.D., vice president for UPMC clinical analytics and assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology.