Newswise — UNLV was recently awarded an $11.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to build Nevada’s first center of excellence in personalized medicine.

The five-year award marks the first time UNLV will lead a project funded through the NIH’s competitive Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) program. It’s also believed to be the first COBRE program in the nation focused exclusively on personalized medicine.

Led by faculty in UNLV’s Nevada Institute of Personalized Medicine, the program will bring together local and regional partners, including the university’s School of Medicine and health sciences programs, to grow human genetics research and related infrastructure and mentor early career professionals in this emerging field.

As the program matures, organizers will leverage this foundation to expand or launch clinical services and education programs in genetics in Nevada.

“Society is progressing beyond ‘trial and error medicine’ into a new data-driven era where a person’s genetic makeup is used to improve accuracy in medical diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment,” said Martin Schiller, UNLV life sciences professor and lead researcher on the grant. “This program will give us the means to further investigate the impact of personalized medicine and its potential for modern medicine, and to explore the potential for expanded clinical and educational services in Nevada.”

Personalized medicine is based on the concept that a person’s unique genetic makeup – their DNA – already encodes the blueprint for effective treatment and disease prevention. Over the next five years, scientists from UNLV and partner institutions will advance research in personalized medicine by doing things like decoding genes to better predict disease susceptibility, and by finding ways to more easily sift through myriad treatment options and fine-tune drug dosages.

A mentoring panel for new scientists made up of university and industry experts will also be established, and the program will fund roughly a dozen pilot research grants aimed at creating a pipeline of scientists and universities working to make personalized medicine in Nevada a reality. 

“Personalized medicine is revolutionizing how we individualize care for patients, and this effort will position UNLV to play a central role in the growth and development of this emerging field,” said Mary Croughan, UNLV Vice President for Research and Economic Development. “Creating a strong, nationwide biomedical research and mentorship network will also bring creative new ideas to Nevada and support innovation that will move our region’s healthcare infrastructure forward.”

The center of excellence is the latest in a series of important steps at UNLV over the past several years to advance personalized medicine in the Silver State.

In 2015, the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents approved the Nevada Institute of Personalized Medicine at UNLV. Formed initially through seed funding from the State of Nevada’s Knowledge Fund, the institute draws scientists from throughout the campus together to improve individual and community health in Nevada through research and technology commercialization, education, and workforce training. Research activity from the institute has generated two start-up companies within the past two years.

The institute’s efforts to swiftly sift through massive amounts of health data were bolstered in 2015 when UNLV partnered with data company Switch to acquire the Intel "Cherry Creek" supercomputer, which ranks among the world's fastest and most powerful supercomputers.

This is just the second program in Southern Nevada to be funded through the NIH COBRE initiative. In 2015, a Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health-led partnership with UNLV was formed to address the complexities of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.