Pitt receives $4.2 million NIH award for large-scale study



Dr. Fred Anderson, left, checks out Sharma Boboolal on April 7, 2015. (Peter Andrew Bosch/Miami Herald/TNS)

By Alexa Bakalarski / News Editor

Pitt has received a multi-million dollar grant to join a national program aiming to individualize disease prevention and treatment.

On Wednesday, the National Institutes of Health awarded Pitt with $4.2 million out of the $55 million it is awarding in Fiscal Year 2016 to launch President Barack Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program. The program aims to change disease prevention and treatment by focusing on individual differences in environment, genetics and lifestyles of a million people or more. With the award announcement, the NIH is expected to open full enrollment in the project this year and plans to meet its one million volunteer goal by 2020.

NIH Director Francis Collins said the variety of information received from the one million research participants will be “an unprecedented resource” to gaining a better understanding of the numerous factors influencing both health and disease.

“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,” Collins said in a release. “The more we understand about individual differences, the better able we will be to effectively prevent and treat illness.”

As part of the program, volunteers will share a range of information on their environment, health and lifestyle, as well as answer questions about their health history and status. Volunteers will also grant access to their clinical data to researchers, and take simple blood and urine tests for genomic and other biological information. Volunteers will have input into the study’s implementation and design and will have access to study results – both aggregated and individual.

The amount of funding awarded to Pitt over the project’s five-year period is expected to be more than $46 million, depending on funding availability and the project’s progress. Pitt is part of a network of Healthcare Provider Organizations, which includes several regional medical centers, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers and a Federally Qualified Health Center pilot site connected to the program.

“As an HPO, the University of Pittsburgh, in collaboration with UPMC, 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,” Dean of Medicine Arthur Levine said. “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.”

Pitt’s PMI project, the Precision Approach to healthCARE or PA CARES, will be led by Pitt’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute – a collaboration between UPMC and Pitt Schools of Health Sciences. The project will launch at 11 enrollment sites across western Pennsylvania and adjacent states, and aims to enroll 10,000 participants in its first year as well as 165,000 more participants in the project’s five-year span.

“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,” Steven Reis, the project’s principal investigator and the director of CTSI, said. “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.”

The project is expected to create close to 50 jobs in Pennsylvania, and people from the western Pennsylvania region interested in joining can already enroll in the CTSI registry in anticipation of the project.

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