Precision Medicine: A Columbia University Initiative

November 01, 2015

Precision medicine encompasses all the right reasons for a new approach to health cares

Columbia University and our hospital partner, NewYork-Presbyterian, are at the forefront of genomics, data science, and the core science, policy, and engineering disciplines essential to this emerging field of humanistic medicine known as precision medicine, which the White House announced on Jan. 30 is the mission of a new $215 million federal initiative(link is external).

The potential for progress in this broad field goes beyond new cures for disease and the practice of medicine. It encompasses virtually every part of the university, including areas that explore fundamental issues of human self-knowledge and the legal, policy, and economic implications of revolutionary changes in our understanding of human biology.

Tom Maniatis, PhD, was appointed by Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger as director of Columbia’s university-wide precision medicine initiative. Dr. Maniatis, one of the pioneers of modern molecular biology, and Wendy Chung, MD, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics and of genetics & development, were invited to the White House to participate in the Jan. 30 presidential announcement.

This compilation of materials about, and articles on, precision medicine illustrates the interdisciplinary approach Columbia University and CUMC are taking to define and advance the field. By harnessing genomic data to better predict the future course of disease and the efficacy of treatment for individual patients, precision medicine has the potential to improve and protect health and dismantle one-size-fits-all therapies.

Precision medicine in practice and research at CUMC, in particular, is realized via collaborations across all of our clinical disciplines and many basic sciences. Our diverse scientific expertise readily contributes to enhancing precision medicine: genomics, proteomics, bioinformatics, systems biology, data and computational science, as well as core science, engineering, and other disciplines. The results should improve patient outcomes, reduce adverse treatment effects, and yield greater patient satisfaction.

CUMC’s efforts play a vital role in Columbia University’s institution-wide priority to realize the potential of precision medicine. Through the efforts of the Precision Medicine Task Force, the University’s internal expertise is coordinated and growing. The synergies of CUMC specialists’ biomedical expertise with that of other University faculty and leaders will define the medical, legal, policy, and economic implications anticipated from the applications of precision medicine.

Many of the more than 40 state-of-the-art shared research facilities within CUMC participate in precision medicine initiatives, including the JP Sulzberger Columbia Genome Center. Already our discoveries are making a difference. For example, using genomic analysis, scientists sequence the DNA of individual tumors to find FDA-approved drugs likely to target crucial areas of each tumor’s genetics. In addition, scientists developed a way to recreate an individual’s immune system in a mouse, an unprecedented tool for customized analysis of autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes. The tool also may be useful to analyze a patient’s response to existing treatments or to develop new therapies.

Among CUMC’s plans for precision medicine is a comprehensive biological repository that will store and allow analysis of 100,000 patient specimens to enable translational researchers to develop new therapies that, in turn, will transform the way clinicians diagnose and treat patients.

With our clinical partner, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, we participate in the New York Genome Center, an international consortium of academic, medical, and industry leaders dedicated to translating genomic research into clinical solutions for disease.