U-M launches new Precision Health research initiative

October 3, 2017
Written By:
Nicole Fawcett
  • umichnews@umich.edu

Researchers across campus will combine biomedical expertise with big data and social science approaches to tailor health solutions for the population

ANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan has launched a new initiative to harness campuswide research aimed at finding personalized solutions to improve the health and wellness of individuals and communities.

Precision Health at the University of Michigan will bring together researchers from across the university to facilitate this new and exciting type of research.

U-M President Mark Schlissel announced the new initiative today during his annual Leadership Breakfast, when he outlines plans for the coming years.

“The University of Michigan is perfectly positioned to be a global leader in precision health because of our spectacular breadth and collaborative ethos,” he said. “We have faculty excellence across all the related disciplines, and schools, colleges, institutes and departments that are already leading the way in discovery and education related to society’s biggest problems.”

Precision health brings together genomics with other big data. It involves taking millions of data points to understand what factors influence an individual’s health and wellness. Researchers then apply that knowledge to make specific, personalized recommendations for prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Beyond a traditional approach
Precision Health at the University of Michigan is about more than traditional personalized medicine. It takes a baseline of genomic and medical factors and incorporates data from sensors and wearables and weaves in social and environmental factors as well as behavior and lifestyle strategies.

There will be three complementary components to Precision Health at U-M:

  • Discovery: Facilitate basic science breakthroughs in biology, genetics, engineering, machine learning, and social sciences to impact health care
  • Treatment: Translate research into treatment and prevention strategies to test them in the real world
  • Implementation: Share validated treatments and prevention tools to the communities U-M serves across the state and world

A large amount of precision-related research is already occurring throughout the university, including expertise in precision health for cancer, mental health and metabolic disease, among other areas.

Opioid crisis to be initial project
Precision Health will focus on building capabilities, including data sets, tools and resources that researchers can use to facilitate collaborative work.

The initial Precision Health project will focus on opioid prescribing to manage pain from surgery. Research shows that about 6 percent of patients who have not previously taken opioids find themselves dependent on these drugs long after they have recovered from surgery. Further, about 70 percent of opioids prescribed after surgery are unused, leaving a large pool of pills vulnerable to diversion.

Through Precision Health, researchers will identify risk factors that might increase the likelihood of someone becoming a chronic opioid user—based on each patient’s health, genetics, social, environmental and lifestyle factors. From there, they can create guidelines to tailor pain management plans and reduce opioid prescriptions.

Fostering a culture of collaboration
U-M’sbreadth of world-class programs along with a culture of collaboration—including among disciplines that don’t traditionally work together—will allow the initiative to cover the spectrum of precision health from discovery to implementation to improving the health of the community and the world. For example, social work researchers can explore the social implications of precision health approaches while law school faculty examine privacy issues.

The initiative will be led by three co-directors:

  • Goncalo Abecasis, the Felix E. Moore Collegiate Professor of Biostatistics at the U-M School of Public Health. Abecasis’ research focuses on the development of statistical tools for the identification and study of genetic variants important in human disease.
  • Sachin Kheterpal, associate professor of anesthesiology and associate dean for research information technology at the U-M Medical School. Kheterpal’s career has been focused on the novel use of IT and electronic health records for patient care, quality improvement and research.
  • Eric Michielssen, the Louise Ganiard Johnson Professor of Engineering at the U-M College of Engineering and associate vice president for advanced research computing for the U-M Office of Research. Michielssen, a computational scientist by training, coordinates research initiatives and educational programs in computational and data science across U-M’s 19 schools and colleges.

Initial support for the initiative will come from the university’s Office of the Provost, Medical School, School of Public Health and College of Engineering. Many more of the university’s 19 schools and colleges, plus world-class programs such as the Institute for Social Research and Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, also will be involved.


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