NU eMERGE Network—Milestone for Genetic Medicine
Researchers at the Feinberg School of Medicine (FSM) are participating in the Electronic Medical Record and Genomics Network (eMERGE), a nationwide effort that may transform the future of personalized medicine by integrating medical informatics technology and genetics. Northwestern is one of five institutions in the eMERGE network, which has collectively been awarded $20 million by the National Human Genome Research Institute, a division of NIH.
The eMERGE Network studies will explore the relationship between genetic variations and a common human trait, using genome-wide association studies (GWAS). The fundamental objective of these studies is to determine whether electronic medical records (EMR) systems can serve as resources for such complex genomic analysis of disease susceptibility and therapeutic outcomes, across diverse patient populations. In addition to Northwestern University, the eMERGE Network includes research teams from the University of Washington, University of Wisconsin, Mayo Clinic, and Vanderbilt University.
The FSM eMERGE research team aims to determine which gene variants might be related to type 2 diabetes and asthma. The team will also determine best practices for community engagement and data sharing, taking into account the ethical concerns associated with privacy and confidentiality. Northwestern’s participation represents an important milestone for NUgene, which was launched by the Center for Genetic Medicine (CGM) in 2002 as a biorepository of DNA samples and healthcare information from participating Northwestern patients.
Now in its second year, Northwestern’s eMERGE study has made significant progress. According to Rex Chisholm, PhD, the study’s principal investigator and dean for research at FSM, the initial phase of the study focused on developing a computational algorithm. “With an algorithm designed, the team is now conducting chart review to confirm that it will work,” he says. The next phase of eMERGE will focus on increasing the number of samples, especially those from patients with type 2 diabetes. To this end, eMERGE investigators are working with a number of internal medicine clinics at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and some community-based clinics. “Once that phase ends, we will begin sending our samples to one of two network-designated laboratories for genotyping,” Dr. Chisholm says.
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