Milwaukee, Wisconsin — A $60 million federal program is aiming to bring the benefits of precision medicine to a diverse spread of Wisconsin communities. In precision medicine, a cutting-edge field, genetic and molecular profiles are used to create highly tailored, optimized therapies for specific populations of patients. It’s considered by many to be the next medical revolution.

U.S. President Barack Obama launched a program called the Precision Medicine Initiative in January 2015. “Doctors have always recognized that every patient is unique, and doctors have always tried to tailor their treatments as best they can to individuals,” he announced. “You can match a blood transfusion to a blood type—that was an important discovery. What if matching a cancer cure to our genetic code was just as easy, just as standard? What if figuring out the right dose of medicine was as simple as taking our temperature?”

The Wisconsin program is part of this initiative. Called All of Us, its goal is to collect lifestyle, cultural, and health information—in addition to DNA—from 33,000 people in Milwaukee. The program will eventually expand to gather data from one million people across the United States. It will deliberately over-sample minority communities, which have historically been under-represented in medical research.

“Every different sub-sector of the population has different genetic characteristics,” says the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Dr. Zeno Franco, who highlights that All of Us is banking on participation from a diverse array of people. He says that, normally, research populations tend to be comprised of “white, older males,” and that All of Us will intentionally seek out “African American, Latino, Hmong…disabled, [and] LGBT” people. 

Dr. Franco notes the personal benefit of precision medicine to him. “I’m Latino. I’m Mexican-American. And my aunt recently said to me, ‘I’m not responding well to statins [a class of cholesterol-reducing drugs]…And they think it’s because I’m from a Latino background. And my genetics are governing that,’” he said. Precision medicine programs like All of Us can help Dr. Franco understand “how we can use that information to insure, for example, that we don’t have a bad reaction to a drug.” 

Once the program administrators achieve sufficient enrollment and obtain ample data, they can offer participants personalized disease prevention regimens.

Why This Matters

Precise scrutiny of a patient’s genetic makeup is opening up a whole new world of treatment possibilities. This is particularly beneficial to minority communities, which are now the subject of renewed focus. The 2019 Health Trend Ten from Syneos Health delves into the dynamic of “social determinant segmentation,” which refers to the fact that researchers the world over are looking more closely at factors such as gender, race, sexual identity, and other significant characteristics that influence and help predict a person’s susceptibility to certain conditions and suitability for certain therapies. Brands, accordingly, are regionalizing and tailoring their engagements in order to match these novel, customized cures. 

About the Author:

Ben helps spark innovative healthcare thinking as Associate Director of Innovation. Previously on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair, he brings experience in engaging, rigorous storytelling to the healthcare world. Ben’s goals are to move brands to rethink their roles, own their evolving narratives, and maintain vital and vigorous consumer relationships.