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he PPMH matched funds from the NC TraCS $5-$50K Pilot Program for four principal investigators in the UNC School of Medicine who proposed projects that would generate evidence for implementation of precision medicine approaches in the UNC Health Care System and beyond.

Clockwise from top left: Kelli Allen, PhD; Ian Davis, MD, PhD; Christine Kistler, MD, MASc; and Pengda Liu, PhD.

The UNC Program for Precision Medicine in Health Care (PPMH), which aims to transform patient care through evidence-based precision medicine, and the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) have awarded three pilot grants. The pilot grants have direct clinical or human translational impact and are focused on the implementation of precision medicine approaches in the UNC Health Care System and the state of North Carolina. PPMH will be providing the matching funds for these pilot grants.

Kelli Allen, PhD, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy, and Immunology, will lead the “Precision Medicine to Inform Rehabilitation and Exercise Therapies for Knee Osteoarthritis” project. Knee OA is one of the most common chronic conditions treated in primary care at UNC, and exercise-based therapies are core recommended treatment components. Previous research has shown both internet-based exercise programs and physical therapy are effective, but little is known about which patients benefit most from these two types of programs. This project will use machine learning analyses to identify subgroups of patients who experience greater improvement with either physical therapy or internet-based exercise training. Results from this study will contribute towards standardizing treatments for knee OA.

Christine Kistler, MD, MASc, Associate Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and the Division of Geriatric Medicine, will lead a study, “The Feasibility of Using a Pharmacogenetic Assay in Nursing Home Residents to Reduce Adverse Events (FOGI-NH)” that will focus on testing the feasibility of using pharmacogenomics to reduce medication adverse events in nursing home residents. The PGx1 assay, developed by the Wiltshire lab in the UNC School of Pharmacy’s Center for Pharmacogenomics and Individualized Therapy, evaluates 30 genes to determine how a patient will respond to 100+ drugs. Dr. Kistler will evaluate the ability to conduct a larger trial to examine the effectiveness of the PGx1 assay with nursing home residents and determine how the assay can be most effectively utilized in the nursing home setting.

Pengda Liu, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, and Ian Davis, MD, PhD, Professor in the Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, will lead the study, “MERTK Inhibition Sensitizes Ewing Sarcoma to Chemotherapy”. Ewing sarcoma, a tumor of the bone and soft tissue of children and young adults, can become resistant to chemotherapy. Preliminary data from cell culture suggests that MERTK inhibition combined with chemotherapy might offer an effective treatment for Ewing sarcoma patients. This pilot study will further evaluate the effectiveness of this combined therapy and search for a biomarker that could indicate which patients would benefit from this therapy. If successful, results from this pilot study will be used to support an application for a new clinical trial.

A second round of PPMH/NC TraCS pilot grant funding is expected to be announced in 2020. Contact for more information.

News story courtesy of UNC Health.