Feb 25, 2016 2:23 PM

On the eve of Vice President Biden’s visit to Huntsman Cancer Institute to consult with oncologists and scientists about how to eradicate cancer through the national “moonshot” initiative, a group of U of U experts traveled back to the White House to help shape President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative

The White House is ushering in a new area of medicine that promises to deliver the right treatment to the right person at the right time, and they’re partnering with the University of Utah to get it done. The national attention is no surprise considering the U’s rich legacy in disease gene discovery, and its ongoing research in genetics and informatics. The U’s expertise coupled with its innovative approaches to transforming health care is creating a unique value proposition to advance the field of precision medicine.

Precision Medicine in the News  


Vice President Joe Biden Consults With Huntsman Cancer Institute Experts on Cancer “Moonshot ”

Cancer is a particularly tricky beast to tame. Even though it has one name, it is hundreds of diseases. And they continually change with time, barely standing still long enough to be wrestled down. Vice President Biden held roundtable discussions with oncologists and scientists at the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah on Feb. 26, drawing from their expertise to inform the national “moonshot” initiative to eradicate cancer. 


White House Highlights University of Utah-led Rare Disease Initiative at Precision Medicine Summit

Even though rare disease are, by definition, rare, as a group they afflict 10 percent of the population. And for 95 percent of them, there are no available drugs to treat their condition. At the Precision Medicine Summit on Feb. 25, the White House drew on the U’s expertise and highlighted a University of Utah-led coalition that will lay the groundwork for a pipeline that rapidly matches patients with the right drugs for their condition, at a relatively low cost.


Turning to Surprising Sources for Innovative Care

Pediatric oncologist and Huntsman Cancer Institute investigator Joshua Schiffman, M.D., spends his days treating children with cancer, but what he really wants to do is prevent it from occuring in the first place. So when he learned that elephants rarely get cancer, he saw an opportunity to translate that odd phenomenon into a way to save lives. He found that elephants carry extra copies of a cancer-preventing gene and is now working on translating that discovery into treatment. On Feb. 24 he presented his work, and the healing power of the human-animal bond, at a Congressional briefing on Capitol Hill.

Continuing a Legacy of Discovery


Fueling the Future of Precision Medicine

We know that the missing clues to many diseases are buried deep within our DNA. Many of those clues are revealed through our family connections. The Utah Genome Project leverages the Utah Population Database (UPDB), a treasure trove of health data built in partnership with the generous families of Utah. UPDB has led to identification of genes that contribute to more than 30 diseases, including breast cancer, colon cancer, and melanoma. Continuing the legacy, the Utah Genome Project has launched a large-scale, genome sequencing and analysis initiative to discover new disease-causing genes and develop genetic diagnostics and precision therapies.


Who’s Driving Discovery and Where Are We Headed? 

Call it personalized health or precision medicine, the paradox is the same. Science is infinite and resources are limited. So how do we balance expediency with the need for accuracy and thoughtfulness? How do we prioritize translational research against the need to first understand? Will we crumble under constrained resources, exploding technology and heightened consumer demand, or seize these challenges as opportunities to propel us forward?


Matt Might's DIY Guide to Discovery

Drawing on his family’s four-year quest to figure out his son’s mysterious health problems, Matt Might created a guide for families whose diagnostic odyssey has come to a dead-end. “They are just waiting for someone to tell them what to do,” says Might who is an associate professor of computer science at the University of Utah. “Because once you tell a parent to do something they’ll do it or find the right people to do it and raise the money to see it done.” Think of the guide as a conversation starter for anyone—a clinician, patient, or scientist—who has “find a cure” on their bucket list.


Can you outlive your family history? 

Imagine a train barreling down a track that is not yet fully laid. So it is with genomic medicine. A feat once thought impossible, we can sequence a genome – 3 billion base pairs of DNA – in less than a week for the price of a laptop. That was the easy part. What comes after is the greater challenge. The ability to interpret our genetic blueprint promises new treatments and knowledge that will transform our entire understanding of medicine. “Right now, genetics falls under the umbrella of medicine,” says Chair of Human Genetics Lynn Jorde, Ph.D. “But it won’t be long until medicine falls under genetics.”

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