Can ‘All of Us’ Help You?

U.S. launches precision medicine effort to collect medical data from 1M people.

Polaroid pictures of diverse group of people.
The National Institutes of Health's All of Us research program aims to gather medical data from people of varied ethnicities, ages and geographic locations.

The U.S. government is looking for help in developing breakthrough medicines and all Americans are invited to pitch in.

The National Institutes of Health launched its All of Us Research Program nationally in the spring. All of Us is an ambitious initiative aimed at collecting medical, lifestyle and genetic data from up to 1 million people living in the U.S. in order to jump-start research and improve health through precision medicine. U.S. residents can take part by signing up to provide the NIH with medical records and blood samples.

During a kickoff event for the national launch, All of Us Director Eric Dishman called the effort “one of the most important research programs in human history.”

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All of Us stands out not only for the number of participants it’s seeking, but also the diversity of participants. Gathering data from people of varied ethnicities, ages and geographic locations is at the heart of the project, said Dr. Anne Pariser, Director of the Office of Rare Diseases Research of the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Science.

“Research participants are often people from larger communities near academic research centers,” Pariser told Vita an interview prior to the program’s national launch. “But they’re trying to go out to, for example, rural areas, underserved areas, non-traditional medical clinics.”

Although the enrollment process is in its early stages, the project appears to be making progress toward the goal of recruiting people from areas whose representation has been lacking in some research efforts. Of the 81,000 people signed up so far, the NIH says more than three-quarters are from those underrepresented areas.

A database built on diversity may be better suited to help determine ways to measure risks for diseases based on environmental or genetic factors, or a combination of the two. Among other hopes for the database is using it to identify individual differences in reactions to commonly used medicines and to zero-in on biological markers that could signal risks for developing certain diseases.

The database of information that comes out of the All of Us project will be made available as a public resource for researchers to draw upon when developing new therapies.

Precision medicine is defined by the NIH’s Precision Medicine Initiative as “an approach to disease treatment and prevention that seeks to maximize effectiveness, accounting for individual variability in genomes, environment and lifestyle.” One of the more discussed precision medicine topics is gene therapy, something CSL Behring is exploring using as a leading-edge treatment for sickle cell disease.

People living in the U.S. who are interested in taking part in the All of Us program can sign up here.