Penn Awarded Major Grant for Collaborative Initiative
Help Understand Genes' Effects on Medications
New Interdisciplinary Field of Human Pharmacogenomic Epidemiology
to be Established
(Philadelphia, PA) - The University of Pennsylvania School of
Medicine has been awarded a major grant from the National Institutes
of Health (NIH) to bring together researchers from different disciplines
to study gene-drug interactions. The three-year, $595,000 award is one
of 21 in the country that will support planning activities for groups
of researchers to develop interdisciplinary strategies to solve significant
biomedical or behavioral research problems.
The Penn project, to be headed by Stephen E Kimmel, MD,
Associate Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, will also establish
a new interdisciplinary field called Human Pharmacogenomic Epidemiology
(HPE). HPE will bring together the disciplines of genetics, bioinformatics,
pharmacology, epidemiology, biostatistics, and bioethics. But HPE is not
simply the merger of multiple disciplines, working in parallel or sequence,
but rather a new archetype of research that will develop novel ways of
working synergistically to address the scientific, logistical, and intellectual
barriers to interdisciplinary research. Recent advances have paved the
way for significant gains in understanding how genetic variability can
alter drug response. Despite this promise, the nature of gene-drug interactions
is complex, and progress in the field has been hampered by the lack of
a genuine interdisciplinary approach.
“Biomedical research has been typically grouped into separate, departmentally
based specialties, often functioning independently of each other,”
explains Kimmel. “But it has become clear that progress in medicine
is a dynamic, multi-faceted process. The conventional divisions within
biomedical research may hamper the pace of scientific discovery and ultimately,
deliverable benefits to patients. This problem is particularly relevant
in our understanding of the influence that genes have on the response
to medications. This award will expand the range of study into an exceedingly
important biomedical problem and that also raises the prospects of improving
the public’s health.”
The need for the project arises from the fact that individuals often respond
differently to the same medication given for the same medical problem.
While billions of prescriptions are written each year in the hopes of
improving health and preventing disease in Americans, these medications
do not work as hoped in everyone, and indeed sometimes result in serious
side effects. Genetic variability in the response to medications has been
known for decades to play a critical role in limiting the efficacy and
safety of drugs. The Penn project seeks to pave the way for a complete
understanding of the genetic basis for these sometimes unpredictable responses
to medications, as well as the appropriate application of this information
to increase the chances that medications will work better in more patients.
“It is an honor and testament to the high caliber of the physicians
and researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine that
we are among the select group of recipients of these vitally important
grants,” says Dr. Arthur H. Rubenstein, Executive
Vice President of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System
and Dean of the School of Medicine.
Based on the new Human Pharmacogenomic Epidemiology approach, the Penn
project will feature a cross-departmental collaboration of experienced
investigators from key disciplines, working within an enriched and accommodating
academic environment, to develop fresh, distinctive, and sustainable approaches
to solving the complex biomedical problem of variable drug response. The
team will work to generate strategies targeting barriers to interdisciplinary
research on three fronts:
- Scientific: by producing study-design and statistical
techniques and methodologies aimed at solving problems of the intricate,
high-dimensional nature of genetic influences on response to medications.
- Logistical: by developing new strategies that improve
the coordination and efficiency of HPE research.
- Intellectual: by designing innovative approaches
to improve the appreciation among the disciplines of each others' scientific
context, opportunities offered, and distinct methods and languages.
"With this initiative we hope to remove roadblocks to collaboration
so that a true meeting of minds can take place that will broaden the scope
of investigation, yield fresh and possibly unexpected insights, and create
solutions to biomedical problems that have not been solved using traditional,
disciplinary approaches," says NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, MD.
The NIH initiative, fronted by the National Center for Research Resources,
is part of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, which is intended to
support and transform the nation's medical research capabilities.
Kimmel is also Co-Director of Penn’s Master of Science in Clinical
Epidemiology program. He received his undergraduate degree from Princeton
University and his medical degree from New York University School of Medicine.
He completed a residency at Harvard’s Brigham and Women's Hospital
and a fellowship at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He
also holds an MS in Clinical Epidemiology from the University of Pennsylvania
School of Medicine, where he received training in the design, execution,
and analysis of drug and device studies. His research focuses on cardiac
pharmacoepidemiology, with a particular interest in the effects and proper
use of drugs and devices for patients with coronary artery disease.
PENN Medicine is a $2.7 billion enterprise dedicated
to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and
high-quality patient care. PENN Medicine consists of the University of
Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation’s
first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System
(created in 1993 as the nation’s first integrated academic health
Penn’s School of Medicine is ranked #3 in the nation for receipt
of NIH research funds; and ranked #4 in the nation in U.S. News &
World Report’s most recent ranking of top research-oriented medical
schools. Supporting 1,400 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the School
of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education and training
of the next generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic
Penn Health System is comprised of: its flagship hospital, the Hospital
of the University of Pennsylvania, consistently rated one of the nation’s
“Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Pennsylvania
Hospital, the nation's first hospital; Presbyterian Medical Center; a
faculty practice plan; a primary-care provider network; two multispecialty
satellite facilities; and home health care and hospice.