By Esther L. Bush for New Pittsburgh Courier
This month Dr. Steven Reis, associate vice chancellor for clinical research, Health Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh and the principal investigator of the All of Us Pennsylvania Research Program and Esther Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, discussed the impact this research program could have on the future of health and medicine.
EB: Good morning Steve, it is a pleasure to take some time and talk with you this month. I have been learning about precision medicine for a year and a half now. I know that you and your team have been working hard to spread awareness about precision medicine and the All of Us Pennsylvania research program. Why is it important for you?
SR: Aside from being a researcher, I am also a cardiologist. Part of my job is to prescribe medications. Imagine this: if everyone who is reading this article went to their healthcare provider today with high blood pressure that required treatment, it is likely that most of us would leave with a prescription for the same medication. Why is that? After all, we are all different so why aren’t we receiving personalized and precise medical care? The answer is because there isn’t enough scientific data to enable individualized approaches to preventing, diagnosing, and treating diseases.
EB: Yes, I can follow that. So how does All of Us Pennsylvania fit into changing that type of “one-size-fits-all” care?
SR: I am very excited to announce that the National Institutes of Health All of Us research study, known locally at Pitt as All of Us Pennsylvania, officially opened national enrollment this past Sunday, May 6th. All of Us will be the largest study in the United States. It will enroll one million people nationally. We aim to enroll 120,000 participants here in Pennsylvania. The goal is to create a large database that includes information about people’s lifestyles, environment, occupational history, medical history and biological makeup. It’s about big data that will lead to scientific discoveries to make disease prevention and treatment more precise and individualized. The University of Pittsburgh is playing a major role in this landmark study. As of last week we have enrolled more than 5,000 people. Nationally, there are over 27,000 individuals who are currently participating in the study.
EB: What an amazing accomplishment! We have been working together for over 10 years now Steve, and because of the Heart Score Study, I have known you even longer. The Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh is so proud to partner with CTSI and All of Us Pennsylvania. I can’t stress enough to everyone who I talk to and who is reading this column right now. Diversity in this research
study is necessary. What is your team doing to make sure that study participants are diverse, and can truly refl ect all differences?
SR: That is a great question, Esther, and one that comes up every time I talk about this program. Diversity means so many things. It can be ethnicity, race, health status, geography, lifestyle, neighborhood, sexual orientation, age… and the list could go on. Nationally, the NIH has a goal that 51% of the million people who will be enrolled fall into a category that has traditionally been underrepresented in biomedical research. We want to meet people and work with organizations across our region to spread awareness about this program. It’s very important to include diverse individuals from our region so that the results of this study will be relevant to all of us here in western Pennsylvania.
EB: I like that. I know that the All of Us Pennsylvania engagement team has come to the Urban League to talk to our staff and clientele about this opportunity, and that they will be out and about in the community throughout the summer. I am proud to support this effort.
SR: Thank you Esther. I can’t overstate the importance of Pitt being part of this study so that we can improve the health of our communities. And that includes all of our community and academic partners. We want everyone in our region to hear about this study, and determine if it is right for you. There is more information on this page and anyone can visit our website at www.joinallofuspa.org. Thank you for your time and your continued partnership. I firmly believe that this study is critically important to the health of both Pennsylvania and our nation.