SIF195 Grand Challenge Research Investment Phase 2: Precision Health for Populations Initiative

Project Manager: Megan Barnett and Karen Ingersoll

Approved: Fall 2023

Project Dates: 1/1/2024 – 12/31/2028

Total Funding: $8,500,000

Executive Summary

The UVA Precision Health Initiative (PHI) will support transdisciplinary research and training to optimize health outcomes for individuals and entire populations, across a wide range of complex and chronic diseases. While Precision Medicine measures genes and disease factors to help doctors identify unique disease risks and find treatments that will work best for a person, Precision Health adds assessment of environments and lifestyles and identifies treatments or prevention strategies that will work best with the fewest side effects, based on each person’s unique background and conditions. Precision Health for Populations is even broader, including precision medicine, disease prevention, and health promotion for whole communities, outside doctor’s office or hospital settings. Precision Health for Populations collects data that can identify how everyone can protect their own family’s health, and strategies experts can take to promote health and well- being at individual, family, community, state, or national levels. The UVA Precision Health Initiative will conduct research that will engage populations in Virginia to generate new discoveries that could improve the health of all Virginians. The PHI will require expertise from faculty in every school at UVA to conduct impactful, innovative, collaborative, transdisciplinary research. PHI-supported faculty, and the graduate students and postdoctoral scholars they mentor, will address the challenges of acquiring, managing, and studying large scale population-level data on health, and other layers of data that surround people and communities including educational experiences, environmental exposures, personal or family behaviors such as diet, physical activity, sleep, employment, and healthcare access/utilization, and other community characteristics that affect health.

PHI scientists will develop and extend equitable partnerships with communities, policymakers, and stakeholders around Central Virginia to address two initial focus areas, cancer and youth mental health across Virginia. Community-University partnerships focused on addressing health inequities in these areas and others will lay the groundwork required to create cohorts of Virginia residents willing to be followed across their lifespan by contributing multiple “layers” of data from existing and future medical records, and from educational records, community records, and lifestyle and behavioral data. In addition, PHI investigators will develop scalable interventions to understand and address cancer disparities and improve determinants of youth mental health. UVA’s investments in the PHI will advance science and establish UVA’s leadership in statewide Precision Health for Populations. PHI research and training will complement the Paul and Diane Manning Institute for Biotechnology that will establish a state-of-the-art campus to develop innovative cellular, gene, and immuno-therapies. In its first 5 years, the Precision Health Initiative will fund new programs to:

  1. Advance transdisciplinary Pan-University research in precision health for populations by awarding faculty collaborative research grants for researchers representing 3 or more fields.
  2. Train the next generation of precision health for populations scientists and support their development through transdisciplinary mentoring and team science, with mentored grants for graduate and postdoctoral scholars to address diversity, equity, and inclusion in Precision Health for Populations topics.
  3. Develop transformative long-term university-community partnerships supported by grants jointly led by UVA scientists and community leaders to plan for developing cohorts of participating Virginians whose health and behavioral data will lead to knowledge about root causes of disease and poor health, and to develop customized and scalable tools for monitoring these factors and testing novel interventions for them.
  4. Study and intervene on Virginia’s health challenges in two initial focus areas: prevention, detection, and treatment of cancer in vulnerable communities, and understanding and improving youth mental health across Virginia.
  5. Grow UVA’s national profile in Precision Health Research via transdisciplinary programming for university, donor, community, policymaker, and grantor audiences, highlighting the University of Virginia’s leadership and research advances in statewide precision health for populations.

Current Status: Award in Progress