Precision Health Initiative

Precision Health

Precision Health Initiative

Led by Indiana University School of Medicine, the Precision Health Initiative is IU’s big health care solution, aimed at preventing and curing diseases through a more precise understanding of the genetic, behavioral and environmental factors that influence a person’s health.

The $120 million IU Precision Health Initiative launched in June 2016 as the inaugural recipient of IU’s Grand Challenges program, with bold goals to cure one cancer and one childhood disease and to prevent one chronic illness and one neurodegenerative disease. The initiative also aims to transform biomedical research and education at IU through the hiring of more than 35 new faculty, the growth of research facilities and cores, and the creation of new training opportunities in precision health.

The multi-disciplinary team of researchers and clinicians that make up the IU Precision Health Initiative spans faculty expertise across IU School of Medicine, IU Bloomington and IUPUI. The initiative is led by its Principal Investigator Anantha Shekhar, MD, PhD, IU School of Medicine executive associate dean for research affairs and IU associate vice president for research and clinical affairs.

IU Precision Health Initiative: Because Health is Personal

Working to Cure and Prevent Diseases Prevalent in Indiana

As an IU Grand Challenge, the Precision Health Initiative’s success will be measured by the tangible impact it has on Indiana Health—that is, how much this research improves the lives of people living in Indiana. To focus their efforts, Precision Health researchers have identified diseases with particularly negative impacts in the state.

According to 2017 data from the Indiana State Department of Health, about 2.4 million Indiana residents—or two out of every five people living in Indiana—will eventually develop cancer. That’s why Precision Health researchers have ambitious plans to develop curative therapies for at least one cancer. Disease research teams have concentrated their efforts specifically on multiple myeloma, triple negative breast cancer and childhood sarcoma. Through the IU Precision Health Initiative, the IU School of Medicine’s partner hospital system, Indiana University Health, will soon administer CAR T-cell therapy to its first adult patient, who is a relapsed diffuse large B cell lymphoma patient. IU Health is now the only approved site in Indiana to administer FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapies, which are widely considered by some as a cure for certain types of leukemia and known for improved remission rates in certain lymphomas. Pediatric patients are expected to be able to receive CAR T-cell therapy as early as this fall at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, as a result of the IU Precision Health Initiative.

In addition to curing diseases, IU researchers have said they would prefer to prevent them. Chronic diseases are among the most prevalent and costly health problems in Indiana. According to the State Department of Health, Indiana has significantly higher rates than the national median for a variety of chronic diseases, with a large majority of the state’s residents affected by one or more chronic health issues. To help combat this poor state of health, Precision Health researchers are focused on developing precision-based strategies for the treatment and, ultimately, the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and Type 2 diabetes—both chronic diseases and among the top seven leading causes of death in Indiana in 2016.

Growing Research Capabilities and Enhancing Expertise

The IU Precision Health Initiative incorporates a multi-disciplinary view of health, illustrated by multiple pillars of scientific investigation in genomic medicine; cell, gene and immunotherapies; chemical biology and biotherapeutics; data and informatics; and psychosocial, behavioral and ethics. Researchers apply a team science approach to this model by taking identified diseases through each pillar until the disease is treated, cured or prevented. Partnerships and processes established through the initiative will help inform and foster collaborative research across IU.

As part of the Precision Health Initiative, IU School of Medicine has opened its first U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved Good Manufacturing Practice Cell Therapy Lab, which allows IU scientists to research and develop new cell, gene and immunotherapy-based treatments on campus. In addition, the school has acquired two Illumina NovaSeq 6000 Sequencing Systems, which can perform a staggering 200 whole genome sequences per week, bringing the most powerful genome sequencing capabilities in the Midwest to IU.

These exciting new facilities, tools and recruits build on IU School of Medicine’s existing expertise in basic science and clinical research.

Faculty Spotlight

The IU Precision Health Initiative has played an integral role in recruiting top scientists to Indiana. Among 33 new faculty hires, with more to come, Kun Huang, PhD, an internationally recognized scientific and academic leader in bioinformatics and computing, was recruited to lead the IU Precision Health Initiative’s data and informatics pillar, and Michael Weiss, MD, PhD, MBA, a prolific biochemistry investigator and physician-scientist, was hired as the leader of the initiative’s chemical biology and biotherapeutics pillar.

Kun Huang, PHD

Kun Huang, PHD

Assistant Dean for Data Sciences
Michael A. Weiss, MD,  PhD,  MBA

Michael A. Weiss, MD, PhD, MBA

Chair, Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Partners

Other Precision Health Initiative partners include IU Health, Eskenazi Health, Regenstrief Institute, Indiana CTSI, IU Rural Health Engagement Center, IU Network Science Institute, and LifeOmic.

Precision Health Initiative Podcast

Because the IU Precision Health Initiative is a long-term effort, IU School of Medicine is sponsoring monthly podcasts on the topics of diseases that IU researchers aim to cure, treat or prevent. The podcasts, produced by the award-winning show “Healthcare Triage,” are anchored by IU School of Medicine faculty and social media star, Aaron E. Carroll, MD. You can download the first podcast about Alzheimer’s disease on SoundCloud.