Scripps Research gets $120 million to change medicine

July 8, 2016 by Gary Robbins, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Dr. Eric Topol will co-lead the effort to enroll and engage 1 million Americans in a study that will deeply explore people's health and regularly provide them with information that they can share with their doctors.

The $120 million grant from the National Institutes of Health is part of the Obama administration's Precision Medicine Initiative, which will customize patient care through big advances in digital technology.

Topol is one of the nation's best known digital medicine advocates. The Scripps Research Institute professor has been pushing medicine to use mobile sensors and smartphone apps to monitor and treat patients. He's also pushed doctors to tie treatment to a broader range of data, ranging from a person's genome to their diet to the air quality in their neighborhood and the microbes in their gut.

Topol's interests are reflected in the NIH's new all-volunteer study, which will last at least five years. People will use mobile and web apps to register and participate. The "citizen scientists" will be able to upload a wide variety of data, including blood pressure, heart rhythm, glucose levels and sleep and exercise patterns. The app also can upload recordings of the tremors that are experienced by patients with Parkinson's disease.

Many people will be asked to give blood and urine samples so scientists can study their biological makeup, especially their genes, proteins and microbes.

People who are served by certain health care providers also can have the companies upload their electronic medical records. Blue Cross Blue Shield and Walgreens clinics are among the companies that have agreed to help with the study. The San Diego Blood Bank will help collect blood samples. Apple and Verizon will spread awareness about the campaign. And San Diego's Qualcomm will help with the app's data security.

The NIH will crunch this large volume of data to better understand the nature of illness and disease.

"We'll be capturing granular biomedical data from 1 million volunteers who represent the entire gamut of medical conditions," said Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, or STSI.

"Using new tools such as mobile sensors, smartphone apps and genomics means that we'll be getting data that previously wasn't obtainable at this scale.

"Unlike previous medical research, much of the data obtained from the participant will be returned to that individual on a continuous basis - and that data can be shared with the participant's doctor."

Topol's STSI is expected to enroll 350,000 of the 1 million people in the study. The rest will be recruited from other institutions across the country.

STSI will seek volunteers from "infancy to advanced age, across all ancestries and demographics," Topol said. "Today, data are only collected via clinic visits in the contrived, one-off setting. The (new study) data will be collected via and sensors in the real world, real-time, with feedback."

NIH Director Francis Collins told The San Diego Union-Tribune, "This bold initiative, empowered by participation of a million or more fully engaged U.S. participants, will (teach) all of us about how to keep people healthy, and how to manage chronic disease when it strikes - not in a 'one-size-fits-all' fashion, but based on individual differences in environmental exposure, lifestyle and genetic factors.

"It will ultimately revolutionize the practice of medicine."

Recruiting 1 million volunteers may not be easy.

Many people are wary of sharing health information online. And others simply don't want to participate long term.

Topol's collaborators are aware of the challenge.

"We're going to make this as easy as possible for people," said Praduman Jain, chief executive officer of Vibrent Health of Fairfax, Va. "There's only going to be one app. People won't have to jump around to participate."

Dr. David Wellis, of the San Diego Blood Bank, is expecting strong interest from the public.

"Blood donors are ideal for this study," Wellis said. "They represent an ethnically diverse population. They're used to giving samples. And blood banks are trusted. People can help by giving a little extra blood. That will have a real impact."

University of California, San Diego computer scientist Larry Smarr - a major proponent of digital medicine - saw opportunity and obstacles ahead.

"Given the natural variation among , it is necessary to get personalized data on large numbers of participants to move the program forward," said Smarr, who founded Calit2, a UC San Diego tech incubator.

"Of course, no one person can possibly read through the millions of data sets that will be generated by this program, so there will need to be a parallel effort in analytics and machine learning to bring the patterns out of the sea of numbers.

"Furthermore, since one of the goals of precision medicine is to catch evolving disease threats very early - way before there are symptoms - longitudinal time series of biomarkers on each individual will be needed, thus multiplying the Big Data challenge."

Topol is happy to be moving in the right direction, saying, "We can't keep using a one-size-fits-all approach to medicine. We need to customize treatment to the individual."

Explore further: NIH taking first steps to huge precision medicine project


Related Stories

NIH taking first steps to huge precision medicine project

February 25, 2016
The Obama administration is moving ahead with a major project to learn how to better tailor treatments and preventive care to people's genes, environment and lifestyle.

Study combines DNA testing with wireless sensor to improve Parkinson's diagnosis

April 7, 2016
Diagnosing Parkinson's disease, especially in its early stages, has long been a challenge for physicians. A newly launched study by the Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) aims to improve screening accuracy by ...

Study launched by STSI uses wearable sensors to detect AFib

December 1, 2015
Researchers at the Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) have launched a home-based clinical trial that uses wearable sensor technology to identify people with asymptomatic atrial fibrillation (AFib).

Wellderly study suggests link between cognitive decline genes and healthy aging

April 21, 2016
An eight-year-long accrual and analysis of the whole genome sequences of healthy elderly people, or "Wellderly," has revealed a higher-than-normal presence of genetic variants offering protection from cognitive decline, researchers ...

Scripps Wellderly Genome Resource now available to researchers

March 6, 2014
Scientists exploring the genetic causes of illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, cancer and diabetes now have a new tool – a reference DNA dataset built by researchers at Scripps Translational Science Institute ...

Genetic research now integrated into MyHeart Counts app

March 25, 2016
A phone app developed at Stanford to study heart disease risk and help ordinary people manage that risk has teamed up with 23andMe to add a genetics option.

Recommended for you

New approach helps rodents with spinal cord injury breathe on their own

October 17, 2017
One of the most severe consequences of spinal cord injury in the neck is losing the ability to control the diaphragm and breathe on one's own. Now, investigators show for the first time in laboratory models that two different ...

Pair of discoveries illuminate new paths to flu and anthrax treatments

October 17, 2017
Two recent studies led by biologists at the University of California San Diego have set the research groundwork for new avenues to treat influenza and anthrax poisoning.

New method to measure how drugs interact

October 17, 2017
Cancer, HIV and tuberculosis are among the many serious diseases that are frequently treated with combinations of three or more drugs, over months or even years. Developing the most effective therapies for such diseases requires ...

A new compound targets energy generation, thereby killing metastatic cells

October 17, 2017
Cancer can most often be successfully treated when confined to one organ. But a greater challenge lies in treating cancer that has metastasized, or spread, from the primary tumor throughout the patient's body. Although immunotherapy ...

Research finds that zinc binding is vital for regulating pH levels in the brain

October 17, 2017
Researchers in Oslo, Norway, have discovered that zinc binding plays an important role in the sensing and regulation of pH in the human brain. The findings come as one of the first studies that directly link zinc binding ...

Researchers find factor that delays wound healing

October 17, 2017
New research carried out at The University of Manchester has identified a bacterium—normally present on the skin that causes poor wound healing in certain conditions.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.