White House Precision Medicine Initiative Recognizes Utah Contributions

The White House Precision Medicine Initiative aims to do no less than completely revolutionize health care by shifting disease prevention and treatment from a “one-size-fits-all” approach to those that are customized to a patient’s genetic make-up. Current strategies include integrating one million volunteers into the initiative’s design by giving them the opportunity to contribute diverse sources of data and to participate in research.

As plans for carrying out these efforts are crystallizing, attention has turned to the Utah Genome Project and University of Utah, which are widely recognized for their innovative approaches to genetics and disease gene discovery.

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins was among the witnesses present at the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday, May 12, 2015. U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) spoke before the committee to highlight the strength of the Utah Population Database, a collection of extensive family histories overlaid onto over 22 million public health and clinical records. Investigators with the Utah Genome Project and University of Utah have leveraged the unique resource to find the genetic culprits behind dozens of diseases.

Hatch pointed out that harnessing the unparalleled depth of family history information within UPDB accelerates the pace of genetic discovery by honing in on genetic variations that run in families riddled with inherited conditions such as heart disease, and certain types of cancer. “I think our folks in Utah can make significant contributions to what you’re trying to do here,” he said.

“Utah has been a wonderful place as far as the ability to do remarkable research in human genetics over many decades. Research that I personally benefited from collaborating with over decades of my own research career,” recognized Collins.

Collins added that the family collections data could bring considerable strength to the precision medicine initiative, a proposal that will be discussed at the NIH Workshop on Precision Medicine to be held later this month. Will Dere, M.D., Director for the Program in Personalized Health at the University of Utah has been invited to take part in the working group.

Innovating Disease Treatment