Matt Schorr
January 14, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. In 2016, the Precision Medicine & Health Disparities Collaborative (PMHDC) launched with a simple mission: provide resources for research teams using precision medicine to eliminate health disparities. In the years that followed, its objectives encompassed science, education and advocacy.

On December 11-12, 2019, PMHDC team members gathered at Vanderbilt University’s Student Life Center for their third annual in-person meeting, where they discussed the challenges they face today and their plans for tomorrow.

“We began our part in this mission three years ago,” Consuelo H. Wilkins, MD, MSCI, Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance (MVA) Executive Director and PMHDC Principle Investigator, commented afterward. “It still continues today.”

 

Precision Medicine

The National Research Council defines “precision medicine” as the ability to classify individuals into sub-populations that differ in their susceptibility to a particular disease, in the biology and/or prognosis of the diseases that they may develop, or in their specific treatment.

The PMHDC fills the cross-training gap between human genomics research and disparities research, generates awareness of immediately addressable disparities, and acts as a national resource for disparities knowledge. It yields services and resources that propel precision medicine and health disparities research.

 

Sharing ideas

The PMHDC is the result of a five-year, $11.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  It’s comprised of researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), the University of Miami, and Meharry Medical College (MMC), and its primary focus is health disparities among African Americans and Latinos.

December’s in-person meeting offered a chance to share and exchange ideas freely.

“New methods for utilizing social, cultural, environmental and biological data so we can create strategies for disease treatment and prevention – particularly among those with disproportionately poor health outcomes – are vital for precision medicine to reach its potential,” Wilkins said.

 

Steering Committee

Once again, members of the PMHDC Steering Committee were on hand to offer feedback and suggestions to the projects’ respective principal investigators.

“We had great feedback from our external advisors and devised solid plans for going forward to next year,” Nancy J. Cox, PhD, Vanderbilt Genetics Institute Director, commented afterward. “One of the things we will be working hard on is devising effective plans for dissemination of the achievements of the entire group, and the enthusiasm of our external advisors for seeing these achievements widely disseminated will make that a strong priority.”

Phillip Alberti, PhD, Senior Director of Health Equity and Research Policy at the Association of American Medical Colleges shared that sentiment.

“The meeting was fantastic,” he said. “I came away with an appreciation not only of the innovative multidisciplinary research projects supported by the Center, but also with a sense that PMHDC is at the leading edge of developing and testing a framework to integrate personalized, precision medicine with population health science.”

 

‘Extremely useful’

“The in-person meeting format is extremely useful,” Sarah Stallings, PhD, MVA Research Assistant Professor, noted. “We were able to showcase a lot of the important work that we’re doing.”

“It was a great way for us to come together, because so many of us are spread out throughout different institutions,” Jabári Ichimura, Clinical Coordinator III for the MVA, added. “We have quite a few web conferences, but when we’re one place together we can bounce ideas off of one another and get conversations going.”

 

About the Precision Medicine & Health Disparities Collaborative

The mission of the Precision Medicine & Health Disparities Collaborative is to provide a diverse group of researchers with the infrastructure and resources to develop collaborative research teams that use precision medicine approaches to eliminate disparities in health outcomes, specifically among African Americans and Latinos. Its objectives encompass scientific, educational, and advocacy areas. It will fill the cross-training gap between human genomics research and disparities research; generate awareness of immediately addressable disparities and propose practical solutions; and be a resource nationally for disparities knowledge. The combined resources and expertise of its partners will yield extraordinary services and new resources that will propel precision medicine and health disparities research.

 

About the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance

Founded in 1999, the Alliance bridges the institutions of Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Its mission is to enrich learning and advance clinical research in three primary areas -- community engagement, interprofessional education and research -- by developing and supporting mutually beneficial partnerships between Meharry Medical College, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the communities they serve. Through community engagement, the Alliance serves a large community of stakeholders including surrounding universities and colleges, community organizations, faith-based outlets and community health centers. Its interprofessional education enhances students' interdisciplinary understanding and improves patient outcomes through integrated care. The research conducted provides access to experienced grant writers and materials supporting the grant application process and facilitates grant-writing workshops.