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UA and Banner receive $43 million research grant from NIH

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Brandi Walker | The Daily Wildcat

A view of BUMC in Tucson on Dec 20, 2015. The National Institutes for Health recently awarded UA and Banner a $43 million research grant.

The National Institutes of Health has given the UA Health Sciences and Banner Health a $43-million research grant to partake in the Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program, which was proposed by President Barack Obama in his 2015 State of the Union address.

The program, called PMI-CP, is a revolutionary approach to “prevention and treatment based on people’s individual differences in environment, genes and lifestyle,” according to the NIH website.

The NIH grant, totaling $43.3 million over five years, aims to improve health and treat disease as a part of Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative.

With the PMI, doctors and researchers across the U.S. will work to bridge the gap between patients and carefully designed medicine, as medical treatments have not been tailored to a specific patient, but rather a one-size-fits-all approach, according to the NIH website.

PMI-CP plans to recruit one million U.S. research participants who will share biological samples, genetic data, diet and lifestyle information that will then be linked to their personal electronic health records, according to the NIH.

The National Institutes of Health is confident that through a massive database, researchers will be able to develop exact treatments for diseases and conditions.

“Over the next five years, we’re going to recruit 150,000 individuals to this Precision Medicine Initiative,” said Dr. Joe G.N. "Skip" Garcia, senior vice president for UA Health Sciences, the Dr. Merlin K. DuVal Professor of Medicine and an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine.

Garcia said with the UA and Banner partnership they plan to recruit from all over the Southwest, Alaska and Wyoming.

“Over the last three years, [University of Arizona Health Sciences] has built really strong programs in population health,” Garcia said.

Garcia said the three components that were major factors for why the UA and Banner were selected to be one of the award recipients are the new center for population health, a new center for precision medicine and a strong focus on health disparities.

Dr. Elizabeth Calhoun, associate vice president of population health sciences and executive director of the Health Sciences Center for Population Science and Discovery at the UA, is one of the three program leaders for the UA-Banner PMI-CP.

“We want to accelerate our knowledge around what works better for various subpopulations,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun said, for example, Caucasian women are more likely to develop breast cancer, while black women die from breast cancer at twice the rate.

“That is a health disparity,” Calhoun said. “In order to improve that, we can’t just improve outcomes across all populations. You have to improve the rate in various subpopulations in order to see a market difference in those disparities.”

Calhoun said reaching out to a diverse amount of individuals and encouraging them to participate in research is not only vital to the success of the UA-Banner PMI-CP, but could also be one of biggest challenges.

“We need to create a culture that people want to participate in, in order to improve the health of their population,” Calhoun said. “It’s not just for themselves, but their families and for generations to come. We’ve got to get not just young people, not just healthy people, but all walks of life to participate and want to be a part of it.”

Dr. Robert Groves, vice president of health management and chief medical officer of the Banner – University Medicine Division, is one of the other program leaders.

“There’s a tremendous opportunity at Banner because of the population of individuals that we serve across the state,” Groves said. “It’s a great partnership because it allows us to leverage our respective strengths.”

Groves said the partnership between UA and Banner Health will be a gateway to national recognition for their efforts in precision medicine.

“I think it’s the next natural, logical step in the evolution,” Groves said. “Our hope and our goals are to be the best in the country at actually populating this database.”

With such strong Latino and Native American communities in Arizona, Garcia said it only made sense for UA and Banner Health to be chosen.

“It’s a tremendous advantage that we are so diverse,” Garcia said.


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