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July 7, 2016

Obama, NIH Announce Big Data Gathering Push for Precision Medicine

John Russell

One could be forgiven for experiencing a bit of hopeful, skepticism in response to U.S. President Barack Obama Administration’s statement in May regarding re-energizing the “War Against Cancer.” The war against cancer is a many-decades old effort with mixed results – great progress in many areas but matched with disappointment in others. Winning the war still seems rather far-off. The new effort, to be led by Vice President Biden, is part of Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative.

Precision Medicine is a powerful idea – mostly marshaling insights from varying genomics technologies and research (writ large) to “personalize” and improve the efficacy of therapy for very many illnesses. Much of what has been missing so far are large enough datasets to reflect true population-scale dynamics. Later today, according to a statement written by Obama and appearing in the Boston Globe and a report yesterday in, NIH will mount a new initiative to accelerate gathering needed datasets.

Obama wrote in the Boston Globe, “The National Institutes of Health is making major investments in partnerships across the country, including with the Broad Institute in Cambridge, to gather data that could lead to lifesaving discoveries. Building in strong privacy and security protections from the start, NIH is teaming up with regional health care providers and community-based health clinics to sign up a million or more volunteers from all walks of life. The health, environmental, and lifestyle information this diverse group will provide will be analyzed by qualified scientists to generate new insights and one day bring us closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes.”

Yesterday, provided a few more details: “The National Institutes of Health will spend $55 million in a single year to begin a study of a million American volunteers who will consent to have their bodies measured in myriad ways to figure out how genetic and environmental risk factors interact to cause disease…

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