Missoula residents will have a chance to contribute to a nationwide research project by visiting two trailers parked in Caras Park through Friday.
The trailers, one housing an exhibit and the other a mobile clinic, opened Tuesday as part of the “All of Us” program for the National Institutes of Health. The program, which will span a decade, has a goal of collecting medical information of more than one million people living in the United States in order to improve health care for the entire population.
“We want to make sure that everybody’s fairly represented in medical research. The more diverse of a data pool we can have, the better,” said “All of Us” tour manager Mel Lopez.
The program is part of the NIH's Precision Medicine Initiative, which began in 2016 when $130 million was allocated to create a national cohort of participants offering their medical data to inform researchers for generations. The program is free of charge to participants.
According to Lopez, by researching this reservoir of information, health care providers will be able to eventually provide individualized medication and treatment known as "precision medicine."
Lopez said the idea for precision medicine isn’t new, citing prescription medication and eyeglasses, along with prosthetic limbs as examples.
“Most people don’t realize that those are precision medicine, but that’s what it is,” she said.
Within the exhibit trailer, Lopez and other staff members introduced visitors to both the program and precision medicine. Tablets allowed those interested to register with "All of Us" and begin answering questions about their health and habits.
"There’s different levels of involvement," Lopez said. "You can just answer some basic survey questions on environment and lifestyle. But if you would like to do the genetic portion, we have a nurse on site."
July marked the program’s first visit to Montana, with a stop in Billings last week. The University of Montana Rural Institute, which works to improve the lives of those with disabilities in rural areas, and the American Association on Health and Disability hosted the visit to Missoula.
“Most health programs that conduct medical research are kind of narrowly focused, but this is the first one that seems to be broad-based,” said Travis Hoffman, an advocacy coordinator with Summit Independent Living.
Hoffman said the inclusive nature of the program, which welcomes anyone residing in the United States, inspired his organization to help bring it to Missoula. Summit Independent Living is affiliated with the American Association on Health and Disability.
Lopez said she is associated with two populations that are underrepresented in medical research, being a first-generation Mexican American.
“I am Hispanic, which is 16% of the population, but only 1% is represented in medical research. I’m also female, which is 51% of the population, but more studies have been done on males,” she said, citing figures from the NIH.
The NIH has established four components to the “All of Us” program through cooperative agreements with organizations like the Mayo Institute. Those components include the “biobank,” the data and research center, the participant center and its technology system.
More than 274,000 people have participated in the program since it launched in May 2018. Of those, 80,000 have offered their electronic health records and 174,000 have provided bio samples for researchers.
For its Missoula visit, “All of Us” contracted a nurse to work on site to take measurements and blood pressure, along with blood and urine samples to be shipped to the Mayo Clinic for researchers to process genetic data.
“This is the first program that I’ve been a part of that does genetic testing, and I think that’s an awesome addition, especially for people who don’t know their family history,” said Mariah Proud, a nurse contracted for “All of Us.”
“Any information is good, but when you get that large of a data pool, it’s going to benefit even more so. Ten people compared to 1 million makes quite a difference,” she said.
Data collected by “All of Us” can be found at researchallofus.org.