NIH leaders discuss future of precision medicine

March 22, 2021

A new commentary in Cell, co-authored by Director of the National Institutes of Health Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, and Joshua C. Denny, MD, MS, Chief Executive Officer of the All of Us Research Program, highlights seven opportunities to accelerate tailored medicine efforts and create a more equitable health landscape in the future, according to a news release from NIH.

The commentary covers key areas including huge cohorts, artificial intelligence, routine inclusion of genomics as part of clinical testing, deeper investigation of the role of phenomics and environment in health and disease, and returning value across diverse populations.

The authors highlight the role of large cohorts, like the All of Us Research Program, and the immense potential of such resources that aim to bring together diverse streams of information spanning genomics, social determinants of health, environmental exposures, electronic health record data, and wearable device data. They note that these resources offer tremendous opportunities for discovery across every area of medicine, but that an "open science" approach is needed for researchers to combine data across cohorts to maximize their impact on a global scale.

Another necessary growth area the authors discuss is improving diversity and inclusion in science. For example, an article in Nature Genetics last year reported that people of African or Hispanic/Latin American genetic ancestry make up less than 3% of participants in published, genome-wide association studies. Collins and Denny contend that such underrepresentation has the potential to worsen current health disparities, while also weakening biological discovery that could benefit all populations.

The authors said that the COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened the need for transformative change in health research to meet the needs of communities nationwide, especially communities of color bearing the brunt of the virus's impact.

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