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NIH Awards Grant to Four New York City Medical Centers to Advance Precision Medicine

Weill Cornell Medicine and Columbia University Medical Center, in collaboration with NewYork-Presbyterian and NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem, have been awarded a grant from the NIH worth $4 million in the first year of funding to improve physicians' ability to prevent and treat disease based on individual differences in lifestyle, environment and genetics. The grant, which could total $46.5 million over five years, will enable researchers to enroll patients in the Cohort Program of President Barack Obama's Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) in order to better understand the genetic and other biological drivers of disease, and how they relate to overall health.

Precision medicine, an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention, takes into account individual variability in genes, environment and lifestyle for each person. Columbia and Weill Cornell Medicine, along with several other medical centers and institutions across the country, will provide expertise and infrastructure to launch the PMI Cohort Program. This landmark research program aims to engage 1 million or more diverse U.S. volunteers in an effort to extend the success of precision medicine in some cancers to many other diseases. Importantly, the program will also focus on ways to increase a person's chances of remaining healthy throughout life.

"As doctors and scientists, we are committed to providing our patients with the very best, most cutting-edge care to ensure that illness isn't a barrier in their everyday lives," said Dr. Mark Rubin, director of the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine and the Homer T. Hirst III Professor of Oncology in Pathology at Weill Cornell Medicine, and director of the precision medicine program at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, who is co-leading the grant with Dr. David Goldstein, director of the Institute for Genomic Medicine at Columbia. "The PMI Cohort Program will enable scientists to detect and delineate the key genetic drivers of disease across the diverse population of patients we serve — and move us closer to fulfilling the promise of precision medicine."

"We are pleased and excited that the NIH has chosen the Columbia/Weill Cornell/NewYork-Presbyterian and Harlem Hospital collaboration as one of the partners in this ambitious and fundamentally important program," said Tom Maniatis, PhD, Director of the Columbia/NewYork-Presbyterian Precision Medicine Initiative and co-founder of the New York Genome Center. Dr. Maniatis is also the Isidore S. Edelman Professor and Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at CUMC. "This award is a validation of our commitment to realize the vision of precision medicine, which identifies relationships between genetic, lifestyle and environmental differences in individuals, and the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human diseases. This grant also recognizes the successful establishment of the Institute for Genomic Medicine (IGM) at Columbia by its Director, Dr. David Goldstein, who has demonstrated the reality of a precision medicine-based approach to treating children with rare, previously undiagnosed genetic disorders." 

Hunter R. Rawlings III. Photo credit: AAU

The New York City research team plans to enroll at least 150,000 volunteers by 2021. Patients will receive wearable devices that will track their physical activity and will have their genomes sequenced; researchers will also collect relevant clinical information. Dr. M. Elizabeth Ross, the Nathan Cummings Professor in Neurology in the Feil Family Brain and Mind Research Institute and director of the Center for Neurogenetics at Weill Cornell Medicine, will provide critical expertise in genomic studies of neurological disorders.

The data will be noted in their electronic healthcare records, enabling researchers to monitor their health over time. Dr. Rainu Kaushal, chair of the Department of Healthcare Policy and Research at Weill Cornell Medicine and physician-in-chief of healthcare policy and research at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, is the head of the New York City-Clinical Data Research Network, a successful effort to share data across leading academic health systems in the city. She will lead efforts to mine the electronic health records of regional PMI Cohort Program participants — stripped of personal and confidential patient data — to identify disease patterns and trends. Using this information, the investigators can ask such questions as which individuals get certain diseases; how often they occur; what other diseases or illnesses they may have; and why some patients respond to drugs better than others, Dr. Rubin said. Patients will have access to all of their data to ensure that they are able to follow their own healthcare.

"Cornell University has a distinguished legacy of leading scientific discoveries that address our greatest healthcare challenges," said Hunter R. Rawlings III, interim president of Cornell University. "The launch of this collaboration marks a turning point in our effort to conquer disease and to translate research discoveries into life-changing impact for communities in New York and around the world." 

Dr. Augustine Choi

"Precision medicine has the power to fundamentally change the way we understand and treat some of the world's most challenging diseases," said Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, interim dean of Weill Cornell Medicine. "This NIH grant, and our critical work with colleagues from Columbia, NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem and NewYork-Presbyterian, will ensure that we are better able to understand the key genetic and other biological drivers of disease and ultimately improve the lives of our patients. We are incredibly honored to be selected for this grant, and grateful to President Obama and the NIH for their bold vision."

"It's an incredible honor for our physicians and researchers to be a part of this historic initiative," says Dr. Steven J. Corwin, president and CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian. "As we delve into new research and discover new prevention and treatment options, this grant gives us a tremendous opportunity to continue to excel in our collective fight against cancer and all life-threatening diseases."

In addition to Dr. Goldstein, Dr. Rubin, Dr. Ross and Dr. Kaushal, principal investigators include:

  • Dr. George Hripcsak, the Vivian Beaumont Allen Professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics at CUMC and director of medical informatics services for NewYork-Presbyterian;
  • Dr. Ali Gharavi, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Nephrology at Columbia; and
  • Dr. Rhonda Trousdale, chief of endocrinology, NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem.

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