This story from Indianapolis Star is being published here as a courtesy for readers of Grand Challenges News.
Indiana University announced Monday that a team of faculty members focused on curing at least one cancer and other diseases will receive up to $120 million under a new program designed to bolster the university's reputation as a research giant.
IU President Michael McRobbie announced a research initiative focused on precision health — a practice that tailors therapies to individual patient needs — as the inaugural winner of the Grand Challenges program.
The university launched the program to redouble its efforts in tackling the “most pressing issues of our time,” McRobbie said. IU is dedicating $300 million to fund as many as five research projects in celebration of the college’s bicentennial in 2020. With IU being home to the largest medical school in the country, and with thousands of faculty members across the state, "there is the opportunity for us to really leverage all of that in certain areas for the betterment of the state," he said.
The team selected as the first winner Monday expects to hire 40 new, full-time faculty members, placing the university at the forefront of an emerging field in biomedical research, McRobbie said.
Over the next 10 years, the team, in addition to curing at least one cancer, hopes to cure one childhood disease and find ways to prevent one chronic illness and one neurodegenerative illness.
The group will partner with Eli Lilly and Co., Roche Diagnostics and other groups to develop the college’s understanding of the field. The project will focus on understanding the prevention, treatment, progression and health outcomes of human diseases through “a more precise understanding of the genetic, developmental, behavioral and environmental factors that contribute to an individual’s health,” according to IU.
“Through team-based, interdisciplinary collaboration, this initiative represents an effort to overcome one of the greatest challenges facing Indiana and society — developing a comprehensive approach to individualized health care at every stage, from prevention to final outcomes," McRobbie said. “This initiative will put IU’s extensive breadth and leadership of large-scale research, discovery and innovation to work for the people of our state."
Through that approach, doctors have successfully treated people who were sent to hospice care and completely cured them, said Anantha Shekhar, who is leading the project and is IU's associate vice president for clinical affairs.
Precision medicine matches prevention and treatment options to individuals based on their genetics and environmental factors.
“In order to really change the trajectory of disease, change the trajectory of how we practice medicine, we need to change the way we think about disease,” Shekhar said.
That means not waiting to treat an illness until a patient shows symptoms or goes to the hospital. Rather, prevention and treatment need to be a lifelong approach, he said. This type of individualized health care could prevent people from developing Alzheimer’s, diabetes or heart disease.
As much as $40 million of the team’s funding will come from the Grand Challenges program, while $80 million will be leveraged from the IU School of Medicine. The funding will support the additional faculty members, as well as a new Center for Chemical Biology and Biotherapeutics and new gene-editing technology.
Monday's announcement at The Skyline Club in Downtown Indianapolis is the culmination of a yearlong process to select the winning team. Other finalists included a study of health equity and sustainable water resources. The plan is for IU to select a winner every year through 2020.
Funding for the Grand Challenges program comes from a variety of sources, including tuition payments, philanthropic dollars and federal grants, said Fred Cate, IU’s vice president for research. The college will do an ongoing review of program recipients to ensure they are meeting milestones.