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University of Michigan Launches New Precision Health Research Initiative

October 9, 2017
by Heather Landi
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The University of Michigan, based in Ann Arbor, has launched a new Precision Health initiative in which researchers across campus will combine biomedical expertise with big data and social science approaches to tailor health solutions for the population.

 “The University of Michigan is perfectly positioned to be a global leader in precision health because of our spectacular breadth and collaborative ethos. We have faculty excellence across all the related disciplines, and schools, colleges, institutes and departments that are already leading the way in discovery and education related to society’s biggest problems,” University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel said in a statement.

According to U-M officials, Precision Health at the University of Michigan will take a baseline of genomic and medical factors and incorporate data from sensors and wearables and weave in social and environmental factors as well as behavior and lifestyle strategies.

There will be three complementary components to Precision Health at U-M—Discovery to facilitate basic science breakthroughs in biology, genetics, engineering, machine learning, and social sciences to impact healthcare; Treatment to translate research into treatment and prevention strategies to test them in the real world; and Implementation to share validated treatments and prevention tools to the communities U-M serves across the state and world.

Precision Health will focus on building capabilities, including data sets, tools and resources that researchers can use to facilitate collaborative work.

The initial Precision Health project will focus on opioid prescribing to manage pain from surgery. Research shows that about 6 percent of patients who have not previously taken opioids find themselves dependent on these drugs long after they have recovered from surgery. Further, about 70 percent of opioids prescribed after surgery are unused, leaving a large pool of pills vulnerable to diversion.

Through Precision Health, researchers will identify risk factors that might increase the likelihood of someone becoming a chronic opioid user – based on each patient’s health, genetics, social, environmental and lifestyle factors. From there, they can create guidelines to tailor pain management plans and reduce opioid prescriptions.

The initiative will be led by three co-directors:

Goncalo Abecasis, Ph.D., Felix E. Moore Collegiate Professor of Biostatistics at the U-M School of Public Health. Abecasis’ research focuses on the development of statistical tools for the identification and study of genetic variants important in human disease.

Sachin Kheterpal, M.D., MBA, associate professor of anesthesiology and associate dean for research information technology at the U-M Medical School. Kheterpal’s career has been focused on the novel use of IT and electronic health records for patient care, quality improvement and research.

Eric Michielssen, Ph.D., Louise Ganiard Johnson Professor of Engineering at the U-M College of Engineering and associate vice president for advanced research computing for the U-M Office of Research. Michielssen, a computational scientist by training, coordinates research initiatives and educational programs in computational and data science across U-M’s 19 schools and colleges.

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