The National Institutes of Health has made awards to four additional regional medical centers or consortiums that will join a national network of healthcare provider organizations (HPOs) to help implement NIH’s Precision Medicine Initiative cohort.

The awardees include the California Precision Medicine Consortium, Geisinger Health System, New England Precision Medicine Consortium, and the Trans-American Consortium for the Health Care Systems Research Network.

The PMI cohort is a landmark longitudinal study that seeks to engage 1 million or more American volunteers who will contribute a range of data about themselves via electronic health records and mobile technology.

The four new organizations will help enroll PMI cohort participants as well as gather their health data and biospecimens, which will be shared with researchers. The goal is to enroll 79,000 volunteers directly or through recruiting partnerships with the organizations by the end of 2016, and ultimately 1 million or more volunteers by 2019.

Initially, the four will receive $5.5 million to begin recruitment and build infrastructure, but NIH said the centers could also receive first-year funds, worth as much as $16 million, as progress is made.

For its part, Geisinger Health System said it already has more than 120,000 participants enrolled in its MyCode Community Health Initiative, a precision medicine project that includes a system-wide biobank designed to store blood and other samples. Patients participating in the MyCode Community Health Initiative will have the opportunity to enroll in NIH’s PMI Cohort Program.

“Large quantities of data are needed to reap the most rewards from precision medicine research,” said Marylyn Ritchie, chair of the Department of Biomedical and Translational Informatics at Geisinger Health System. “Part of Geisinger’s work, in addition to helping collect this data, will be to help the NIH combine and analyze the data. One of the unique things about the PMI Cohort Program data is that it will be available for all researchers and citizen scientists, with applicable security and privacy protections.”

Also See: PMI cohort will require data management on a massive scale

In July, NIH announced the initial set of provider organizations—four regional medical centers and six Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs)—part of a nation-wide HPO network to “ensure that participants in the research represent the geographic, ethnic, racial and socioeconomic diversity of the country.” As community-based HPOs, FQHCs in particular are seen as critical for bringing underserved communities into the cohort.

“These additional healthcare provider organizations will help us in our efforts to reach communities that have been underrepresented in research,” said Eric Dishman, director of NIH’s PMI Cohort Program. “By contributing their information, these communities will help people and their healthcare providers identify the right prevention strategies or treatments. With the PMI Cohort Program, we’re making a concerted effort to include people from all communities and walks of life, to make sure that the knowledge we gain benefits everyone.”

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