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A New Interdisciplinary Field: Human Pharmacogenomic Epidemiology

S. Kimmel

Penn's 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 Dr. Stephen E. Kimmel, 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. 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 Dr. 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."

"It is an honor and testament to the high caliber of the physicians and researchers here that we are among the select group of recipients of these vitally important grants," says Dr. Arthur H. Rubenstein, EVP  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:

"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 Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni.

 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.



  Almanac, Vol. 51, No. 6, October 5, 2004


October 5, 2004
Volume 51 Number 6


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