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Grant bolsters VU personalized medicine efforts

By Leigh MacMillan
February 2012

Vanderbilt University’s efforts in personalized medicine – health care that is tailored to each individual’s genetic makeup – are getting a new boost from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).

NHGRI is awarding $25 million over the next four years to a network of institutions, including Vanderbilt, to discover links between genetic information and disease characteristics/symptoms in electronic medical records, and to use the findings to improve patient care.

Dan Roden

Dan Roden

Dan Roden, M.D., assistant vice chancellor for Personalized Medicine, has led Vanderbilt’s participation in the eMERGE (electronic MEdical Records and GEnomics) network since its launch in 2007.

Vanderbilt also serves as the administrative coordinating center for the network, under the leadership of Jonathan Haines, Ph.D., director of the Center for Human Genetics Research.

“Vanderbilt’s commitment to the idea of personalized health care – including our DNA bank BioVU, one of the largest of its kind in the world – has put us into a leadership position in this area nationally,” Roden said.

Jonathan Haines, Ph.D.

Jonathan Haines, Ph.D.

“Our ability to contribute effectively to the first phase of eMERGE was due in no small part to the collaboration of a very talented group of Vanderbilt investigators with a wide range of skills, including genomics, informatics, translational medicine, statistics and ethics.”

In its first phase, which wrapped up last year, the eMERGE network identified genetic variants associated with higher risk for dementia, cataracts, cardiac conduction, peripheral arterial disease and type 2 diabetes.

In the next phase, investigators will identify genetic variants associated with 40 more disease characteristics and symptoms, using genome-wide association methods to screen the entire genome for variations. About 32,000 participants will be included in each study, which will point to the genes that cause or contribute to diseases – information that can be used to guide clinical care.

Investigators in the eMERGE network have also developed privacy protection methods to prevent the risk of identifying patients in the studies, and they have explored public concerns about genomic research and electronic medical records.

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