NIH awards $11.6M grant to Vanderbilt, Miami and Meharry for new center to study precision medicine, health disparities

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), University of Miami and Meharry Medical College were recently awarded a five-year, $11.6 million grant to launch a new center that will enable research using approaches to precision medicine to eradicate health disparities, specifically those among African Americans and Latinos.

The Vanderbilt-Miami-Meharry Center of Excellence in Precision Medicine and Population Health will leverage unique institutional assets and resources to develop novel methods and catalyze approaches to advance population health.

Principal investigators with complementary expertise will lead the center.

“The future is now, and this award represents unparalleled possibilities in health care delivery as it will allow us to link genetic data with contextual data to learn why different populations experience different health outcomes. Discovering the answers to these questions aligns directly with Meharry’s mission. I am confident that the research coming from this collaboration with the University of Miami and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine will ultimately help transform healthcare in a way that allows every individual to live life healthier,” said James E. K. Hildreth, Ph.D., M.D., President and Chief Executive Officer, Meharry Medical College.

The foundation of precision medicine is that prevention and treatment strategies take individual variability into account, which has the potential to eliminate disparities. Yet, to date, when developing new ways to treat disease, investigational therapies are often insufficiently tested in minorities, even though efficacy and safety can be highly variable in certain races and/or ethnicities.
The center, one of three new awards from the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities, will include core programs focused on building and sustaining a regional consortium and developing strategies to speed implementation, diffusion and adoption of precision medicine discoveries.

Three projects are funded as part of the center. In a study led by University of Miami’s Sunil Rao, Ph.D. and Erin Kobetz, Ph.D., MPH, new statistical methods will be developed to predict risk of disparities, starting with cervical cancer. Dr. Cox will examine genetic risk factors contributing to health disparities and will characterize the relative contribution of genetic risk factors for asthma and pre-term birth, two conditions with substantial disparities in health outcomes among African Americans and Latinos. Derek Griffith, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine, health and society, Vanderbilt University, will lead a study of person-specific obesity treatment for African American and Latino Men.

“Our longstanding partnership with Meharry Medical College continues to result in advancements in knowledge that are positively impacting the health of citizens across the Southeast. I want to welcome colleagues with the University of Miami as they join with us in this new endeavor and look forward to their contributions as we seek to improve the health of the populations we serve,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., president/CEO of VUMC and dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Engaging African American and Latino communities in the Center will be vital to its success. According to Wilkins, community members in Nashville and Miami provided key input to help shape the Center’s proposal and will continue to be involved as part of the consortium and on the Ethics Advisory Board.

Key faculty for this project include:
The primary goal of the Admin Core is to develop and sustain an operational infrastructure that promotes efficient use of cores, facilitates access to center resources and responds to the needs of investigators.
• Consuelo H. Wilkins, M.D., MSCI, Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance
• Maria F. Lima, Ph.D., Meharry Medical College
• Nancy J. Cox, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University Medical Center
• Roy E. Weiss, M.D., University of Miami
• Ana Maria Palacia, Ph.D., University of Miami

Consortium Core
The Consortium Core engages and integrates community and academic partners with interest in health equity and/or precision medicine into the center’s activities.
• Olveen Carrasquillo, M.D., MPH, University of Miami
• Stephanie Miller-Hughes, Ph.D., Meharry Medical College
• Russell Rothman, M.D., MPP, Vanderbilt University Medical Center
• Derek Griffith, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University
• Pamela Hull, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Implementation Core
The goal of the Implementation Core is to foster the adoption and dissemination of precision medicine initiatives for racial and ethnic minorities.
• Sunil Kripalani, M.D., MSc, Vanderbilt University Medical Center
• Jessica Williams, Ph.D., University of Miami
• Carrie Szetela, Ph.D., Meharry Medical College
• Marino Bruce, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University

Training and Mentoring Core
The overall goal of the Training and Mentoring Core is to fill the cross-training gap between genomics research and health disparities research.
• David Haas, M.D., Vanderbilt University Medical Center
• Fernando Villalta, Ph.D., Meharry Medical College
• William K. Scott, Ph.D., MSPH, University of Miami
• Margaret Pericak-Vance, Ph.D., University of Miami
• Hector Myers, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University
• Bettina Beech, Dr.PH., MPH, University of Mississippi Medical Center

Biorepository and Clinical Data Core
The Biorepository and Clinical Data Core leverages clinical, genetic and sociodemographic data across participating institutions to facilitate new research and drive the development of new data mining methods across racial and ethnic minority populations.
• Joshua Denny, M.D., Vanderbilt University Medical Center
• Jacob McCauley, Ph.D., University of Miami
• Siddharth Pratap, Ph.D., Meharry Medical College

Project 1
• J. Sunil Rao, Ph.D., University of Miami
• Erin Kobetz, Ph.D., MPH, University of Miami
• Melinda Aldrich, Ph.D., MPH, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Project 2
• Nancy J. Cox, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University Medical Center
• Lea Davis, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University Medical Center
• Siddharth Pratap, Ph.D., Meharry Medical College

Project 3
• Derek Griffith, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University
• Marino Bruce, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University
• Monica Hooper, Ph.D., University of Miami
• Leah Alexander, Ph.D., MPH, Meharry Medical College

Founded in 1999, the Alliance bridges the institutions of Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt University. Its mission is to enrich learning and advance clinical research by developing and supporting mutually beneficial partnerships between Meharry Medical College, Vanderbilt University and the communities they serve.