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Partners, BMC seek 10,000 volunteers in personalized medicine study


Partners HealthCare and Boston Medical Center are joining a sweeping national effort to gather medical data on at least 1 million people and use it to better understand how disease works.

They are among several health care organizations across the country that will participate in the national Precision Medicine Initiative, federal officials said Thursday. Precision medicine is an emerging approach in which a patient’s medical treatments are based on his or her genes, lifestyle, and other factors.

Partners, BMC, and the other institutions will recruit volunteers to sign up for a long-term study in which researchers will mine data to look for ways to prevent and treat diseases based on differences in lifestyle, environment, and genetics.


Partners and its biggest hospitals, Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s, plan to enroll about 10,000 volunteers of the 1 million being recruited nationwide.

Partners, BMC, and BMC’s affiliated medical school, Boston University, together expect to receive about $4 million in federal funding to get the effort off the ground, said Dr. Jordan W. Smoller, a researcher in the psychiatry department at Mass. General and a lead investigator of the project.

(Partners already asks patients to volunteer their information for a Partners research database called a biobank, but that effort is separate.)

“This is trying to bring information on a large scale of individual differences that make some of us more susceptible to certain disease, make some of us respond to treatments differently,” Smoller said. “It’s really unprecedented in its scale and scope.”

Those who want to participate will be asked to complete questionnaires, grant access to their electronic health records, provide blood and urine samples, undergo physical evaluations, and share information via smartphones or wearable devices, according to the National Institutes of Health, which is running the initiative.

NIH officials said they want to include people from “all communities and walks of life,” including those who are typically underrepresented in scientific research. They gave awards to hospitals that have experience with such patients, including BMC, which treats many racial and ethnic minorities.


Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.