Wisconsin has launched a new project that brings together four state research institutions with the aim of studying 20,000 patient samples for 1 million genetic markers to eventually translate personalized healthcare research into real-world medical practice.
Earlier this month, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle launched the Wisconsin Genomics Initiative, a collaboration to advance personalized healthcare between the Marshfield Clinic, Medical College of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and UW-Milwaukee.
The Wisconsin Genomics Initiative is the first project the four research institutions are embarking upon after Doyle in 2006 encouraged the state to help develop a Medical Research Triangle that advances healthcare research through public-private partnerships.
“The Wisconsin Genomics Initiative is a direct response to the National Institutes of Health’s Grand Challenge II-1, which calls for developing robust strategies for identifying the genetic contributions to disease and drug response,” Tim Stumm, spokesman for Gov. Doyle, told Pharmacogenomics Reporter in an e-mail.
As part of the initiative, the four institutions will combine their resources and develop scientific models to predict people’s disease susceptibility; administer targeted personalized treatments; gauge patient response to specific treatments; and administer preventative care.
Marshfield Clinic will run the Personalized Medicine Research Project, which has obtained DNA samples from 20,000 state residents who have given researchers access to their electronic medical records, or EMRs. MCW will genotype these DNA samples, while UWSMPH will biostatistically analyze the data resulting from the Initiative's genotyping analysis.
For its part, UW-Milwaukee will manage and conduct research in health informatics. Lastly, UW-Madison's Institute for Clinical and Translational Research will attempt to translate the research into medical practice. The resulting data will be available to researchers and healthcare workers worldwide.
According to Stumm, the Wisconsin Genomics Initiative will be rolled out in two phases. In the first phase, researchers will test the scientific underpinnings of personalized medicine, including genotyping 20,000 DNA samples for 1 million genetic markers; validate selected target phenotypes or diseases; develop a search engine to use the research data efficiently for discovery work; build predictive computational models; and make the study results broadly available.
The second phase will focus on incorporating the study findings into state healthcare clinics in an effort to advance knowledge about disease predisposition and prevention, Stumm said.
“The Wisconsin Genomics Initiative is a direct response to the National Institutes of Health's Grand Challenge II-1, which calls for developing robust strategies for identifying the genetic contributions to disease and drug response.”
The funding for the initiative will come from the state, the federal government and from the participating institutions. Stumm did not provide the exact funding amount for the effort, though he noted that stakeholders hope that the project will reduce healthcare costs and encourage investment in personalized healthcare.
“Improved genetic research holds the promise to allow physicians to better predict diseases and manage chronic conditions [by] keeping more people out of the hospital and clinic, avoiding surgeries and other expensive treatments,” Stumm noted. “In addition, pharmaceutical companies will be able to focus on pursuing new therapies that focus on the prevention of certain diseases, instead of focusing solely on how to address the disease once it is detected.”
Wisconsin already has a healthy private-sector genomic research community, with companies like Third Wave, Mirus Biosciences, GentelBio, and Bruker AXS, among other firms, based in the state.
Under the Wisconsin Genomics Initiative, study partners will be able to exchange information throughout the state. After DNA samples are genotyped, researchers will be able to use Marshfield Clinic’s EMRs to obtain health history and environmental factors for targeted diseases that will help them to develop computational models designed to predict individual disease predisposition and treatment response.
In order to successfully translate the study findings into mainstream medical practice, the state will need to continue investing in education for patients and healthcare providers, said Stumm. To those ends, he outlined several genetic educations efforts currently underway in Wisconsin.
Currently, Wisconsin hosts an annual conference that encourages practitioners to use clinical genetic services. In addition, the Genetics Advisory Committee for Wisconsin sponsors a traveling genetics lecture series and the state disseminates educational brochures and runs career-fair booths at state high schools to encourage students to consider entering the field of genetics.
Additionally, the state has a Personalized Medicine Community Advisory Group comprised of community members and clergy, who discuss and issue recommendations on consenting processes, the ethical use of clinical trial results, and appropriate dissemination of study findings to the public.
Stumm mentioned that the Milwaukee’s ongoing effort to create an EMR system linking local healthcare providers, clinics, and hospitals helped make the personalized initiative possible.
“Since he took office in 2003, Gov. Doyle has been committed to ensuring that hardworking Wisconsin families have access to affordable, quality healthcare,” Stumm said. “To address this, Gov. Doyle has, among other things, taken significant steps to expand the use of electronic medical records, a key piece in reducing healthcare costs and improving quality.”
In 2004, Wisconsin created the Wisconsin Health Information Exchange with funding from HHS’ Foundation for eHealth Initiative. The WHIE is working on ways to create a system that can electronically and securely link health information held by local clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare providers.
“Wisconsin’s existing leadership in electronic medical records is another reason why we have an opportunity to become a leader in personalized healthcare as well,” Stumm said.
State-based public-private genomics research initiatives are fast becoming a viable strategy for advancing personalized medicine. Other such genomics and personalized medicine programs include BioHouston in Texas and Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust’s Personalized Medical Science and Technology Initiative in Arizona.