MERIDEN — Representatives from the National Institutes of Health visited the city’s Community Health Center this week as part of a nationwide tour promoting the gathering of information from under served groups.
The agency’s federally funded “All of Us” Research Program, launched a year ago, seeks to collect medical record data and biosamples from at least one million participants around the country, particularly those in under served racial, ethnic and socioeconomic communities.
The NIH is using the information, which is kept anonymous, to build a public online database to help prevent and treat diseases based on genetics, lifestyle and environment, said Yashoda Sharma, senior research scientist for the Community Health Center, located on State Street.
The NIH says the data will also allow doctors to measure the risk for a range of diseases and how patients respond to commonly used drugs.
“It has a lot of potential to change the way treatments are approached and (inform healthcare providers) about how diseases escalate in different populations, but the hardest part is getting people to participate,” Sharma said.
All participants must be 18 or older. The information collected includes blood and urine samples, genomics info, physical measurements, survey information, and electronic health record data. .
“Right now, the majority of all the previous medical research (focuses on) white males...we need to get everybody involved,” said Tom Curran, manager of NIH’s year-round outreach tour on the initiative.
The NIH is partnering with health organizations like Community Health Center to better reach minority populations, including Meriden’s large Hispanic and Latino communities. Starting one year ago, patients and visitors at the center have been able to sign up for the program.
On Monday, the NIH’s “educational mobile unit” was stationed at the health center. Visitors were able to learn more about the research program from NIH representatives on hand and informational kiosks.
In one year, roughly 230,000 people have signed up nationally and about 140,000 of those participants have provided all the necessary information. The NIH is aiming to collect information from 1 million people by 2023 and hopes at least 50 percent of participants will be a racial or ethnic minority.
Participants benefit because they receive test results that can be used by their healthcare providers, including to help prevent genetic-related diseases.
The research program is part of a shift in the medical field from a “one size fits all” approach to treating diseases with “precision medicine,” a more personalized approach.
“This is where medicine is going to – individualized treatments,” Sharma said. “That’s the future of medicine because we know right now that the one-size-fits-all (approach) doesn’t work. A clear example is with cancer. Some people go into remission or are cured, but other people don’t, and that’s because we’re taking that one medication and applying it to everyone.”
Collecting information on minority populations is important because patients from different genetic backgrounds require different treatments in some cases. But genetics, Sharma added, are not the only consideration.
As an example, Indians living in America are more likely to have Crohn’s Disease than Indians living in India, Sharma said.
“It’s the same genetics, but it’s the environment that’s different and the diet is completely different,” she said. “And so that’s why now the big push is to personalized medicine because there’s more than just genetics that’s going on.”
Those interested can sign up for the research program by visiting the CHC, at 134 State St. Individuals do not need health insurance and will receive a $25 gift card for participating.
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