UChicago leads next phase of NIH program to advance precision medicine for ‘All of Us’ program in Illinois

Newswise — In 2018, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched an ambitious effort to advance individualized disease prevention, treatment, and care for people of all backgrounds. The All of Us Research Program set out to build one of the largest and most diverse health databases of its kind by collecting blood samples, demographics, and lifestyle data from more than 1 million Americans to learn more about their genetic ancestry, risk for hereditary diseases, and response to medicines. Researchers are already using this data to learn more about why people get sick or stay healthy, and to find better ways to prevent and treat illnesses.

The University of Chicago joined the initial phase of the All of Us project as part of the Illinois Precision Medicine Consortium (IPMC), along with Northwestern University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Rush University Medical Center, and the NorthShore University Health System. Now, the NIH has just awarded a new $60 million grant to the IPMC to continue its work for the next five years.

Researchers from UChicago will lead the next phase of the project, which will focus on refining and enhancing patient enrollment and engagement processes, maintaining long-term retention of participants, and linking new sources of medical and genetic data to lay the foundation for future research.

“This sets the table for more exciting research,” said Habibul Ahsan, MBBS, the Louis Block Distinguished Service Professor of Public Health Sciences at UChicago. “This is like the backbone infrastructure portion of the project—the work is tedious and requires lots of labor, but many exciting explorations in genomic and computational research will become feasible once this infrastructure is in place.”

Ahsan, who is the Dean for Population and Precision Health and Director of the Institute for Population and Precision Health (IPPH) at UChicago, will serve as the Principal Investigator of the Illinois Consortium for the new phase of the project. Brisa Aschebrook-Kilfoy, PhD, Associate Professor of Public Health Sciences, will be a Co-Principal Investigator for the project.

The IPMC is one of six such groups across the country. As the infrastructure work continues, the NIH will continue awarding grants and follow-up surveys to supply more diverse information to the All of Us repository, such as data on nutrition and dietary interventions, mental and behavioral health, and environmental risks. While the project currently focuses on adults, the NIH plans to launch additional studies for children as well.

Ancillary All of Us studies are already underway at UChicago. For example, the Nutrition for Precision Health Study (NPH), led by Aschebrook-Kilfoy, launched early 2023 to study how individual people respond to different foods. The study will help tailor diet and nutrition plans to individual needs and more effectively promote health, prevent disease, and support more positive disease outcomes, building upon the comprehensive data already collected for All of Us participants to provide insight into personalized nutrition.

“Individuals and health care providers will soon benefit from applications of improved data and analytic opportunities like artificial intelligence to make nutrition decisions based on algorithms,” Aschebrook-Kilfoy said. “This is insight we are all interested in having as scientists but also as individuals who also want to live healthier lives.”

The Illinois group will also continue recruiting participants—more than 44,000 were recruited in Illinois during the first phase (out of nearly 500,000 nationwide), and the NIH has set a new goal of 50,000 more in Illinois toward its overall target of 1 million.

Ahsan said the UChicago-led team will place a particular focus on enrolling patients from racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds who are typically underrepresented in medical research. Nearly 78% of participants enrolled in Illinois during the first phase were from underrepresented backgrounds—70% of those were African American. More than 96% of the patients UChicago enrolled were African American, and the UChicago team plans to continue this rate by working with UChicago Medicine Health System locations throughout the south suburbs and northwest Indiana and engaging with academic partners like Governors State University.

Such outreach is crucial, Ahsan said, to give these populations a seat at the table for precision health research. “Many of our minority patients have been left out of this cutting-edge genomics research because the level of commitment to meeting them, enrolling them, and following up long-term hasn’t been done in a large scale,” he said. “By making sure that more people are represented, now decisions about precision health and disease prevention can be made based on their own data.”

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