VUMC receives $5.3M NCI grant to collect family health histories

The National Cancer Institute has awarded Vanderbilt University Medical Center a $5.3 million grant to develop a single clinical platform for collecting family health histories to identify patients at risk for hereditary cancers.

“Family history is a very stable predictor of disease,” says Georgia Wiesner, MD, Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and director of the Clinical and Translational Hereditary Cancer Program. “It’s been asked about in the clinical setting for years and years, but the information is either not collected at all because of time constraints or it is not collected in a standardized way.”

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Vanderbilt Medical Center Campus photos, summer 2014 ( Daniel Dubois / Vanderbilt University)

To remedy the situation, VUMC researchers will leverage MeTree software, a web-based program developed by Duke Center for Applied Genomic and Precision Medicine. MeTree collects personal history on diet, exercise, smoking and clinical data to calculate the Gail, BRCApro, and Framingham scores—in addition to personal and family health history on 20 cancers, 14 hereditary cancer as well as cardiovascular syndromes and 21 other conditions.

Once patients answer an electronic questionnaire, the software informs them and their clinician if genetic counseling is needed.

VUMC health IT specialists are working with researchers to turn MeTree into a tool that can be integrated with multiple electronic health record systems that support the SMART-FHIR standard. Risk assessments will be conducted by primary care clinics at Vanderbilt, which uses an Epic EHR, and at Meharry Medical College which uses an eClinicalWorks system.

“Vanderbilt Health IT has been on our pre-implementation, year-long journey to figure out what would work here and the technical specifications we would need to go through to implement this,” says Sarah Bland, project manager with VUMC’s Department of Biomedical Informatics, who is assisting Wiesner in overseeing the effort.

“The tool itself has a way to identify 45 different assessments and give you a report for those,” adds Wiesner. “It also takes information on cardiovascular disease and other ailments. We are going to hit a home run if it can be used across systems.”

The $5.3 million grant awarded to VUMC researchers is part of NCI’s Cancer Moonshot, an initiative aimed at achieving a decade’s worth of progress against the disease in just five years. The effort relies on open access and rapid sharing of research data.

“The NCI Cancer Moonshot program provides unique opportunities to focus on the most compelling scientific questions and to develop strategies that accelerate the development of new cancer prevention and treatment,” says Jennifer Pietenpol, VUMC’s executive vice president for research, director of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, and Benjamin F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Oncology. “We are excited that our investigators are taking part in this initiative to expedite a new era in personalized cancer care.”

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