Frontiers Conference at the University of Pittsburgh

University of Pittsburgh researchers play a leading role in a White House conference, co-hosted by Pitt and Carnegie Mellon, on the future of innovation.

One in a Million: Pitt and the Precision Medicine Initiative

Are you one in a million? In the buzzing Exhibit Hall at the White House Frontier Conference, folks line up in front of a brilliant white background to take their picture holding PACares signs in front of "I'm one in a million" quote on the wall.

What for? The Pitt effort to recruit 175,000 volunteers in the next 5 years to push medicine forward. PACares is the Western Pennsylvania site of President Obama's Precision Medicine Initiative—a national $55 million effort to make medicine more personalized, harnessing genetic and other data to push patient care into the 21st century. In July Pitt was selected as a patient recruiting center for the effort, and this exhibit serves as an informational zone for the program during today's events.

 The participants in the registry—all voluntary—will answer several behavioral questionnaires about things like smoking status, general health, mental health, and more. Then they'll complete a physical exam with the basics like blood pressure and heart rate. Finally, they'll provide blood and urine samples to be sent to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, the site of PMI's biobank.

Pitt was chosen in part because of the robust infrastructure of its Clinical and Translational Sciences Instistute. CTSI's executive director of operations, Laurel Yasko, explains that the institute has been building the infrastructure needed for such a project for the last 10 years. Its infrastructure, infromation, resources, and know-how made them a natural choice for the PMI effort. "It was a perfect union," she says. 

For the project, CTSI is expanding its efforts into community clinics. That's where Margaret Palumbo, a Pitt researcher who's helping to lead the Pitt program with Steve Reis, comes in. She's a public health expert who's spent time in HIV/AIDS clinics in Pittsburgh, and she's got the expertise to connect with community members, such as Giant Eagle pharmacies, to promote and enroll patients. To make the study as representative as possible, they are putting a special focus on recruiting patients from underrepresented groups, Palumbo says.

Yasko says that the size and scope of the national PMI study is what makes it unique and important—scientists and researchers need large cohorts to derive rigorous conclusions about health. The three components—behavioral questionnaires, physical exam, and genetic data—have never been gathered on a national scale, and that combination is vital to good future science. 

Maybe you're not a researcher, but you can still be involved! If you're interested in joining a research registry, visit Pitt+Me—they've had around 100,000 sign up so far and are looking for more volunteers, some of whom will be included in the PMI. You just might make a difference for the future of medicine.

—Robyn K. Coggins