In 1968, Dr. Elliot Vesell, Penn State College of Medicine’s first chair of the Department of Pharmacology, discovered that a person’s genetic makeup influences how a drug commonly used to thin blood is metabolized by the body. Four decades later, scientists have found the specific genetic sequences that determine this response. Physicians can now use a patient’s unique genetic signature to prescribe the right dose to be effective and not too much to cause excess bleeding.
Today, in the same halls where Vesell made his discovery, Penn State Hershey Institute for Personalized Medicine opened the doors to its new space, which will help scientists make the next important finds for improving health using genetic and biologic data and rapidly evolving computational techniques.
Launched in February 2012 under the leadership of James Broach, Ph.D., the institute works in close collaboration with departments and other institutes across the Hershey campus, including the Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute, to advance personalized medicine research and to translate that research into clinical applications.
During the dedication, Dr. Harold L. Paz, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Health System CEO, Penn State’s senior vice president for health affairs, and dean of the College of Medicine, said personalized medicine is the next frontier in medicine.
“Medicine has always been personal, but through the research conducted here, we will now be able to fulfill the promise envisioned by early pioneers like Dr. Vesell and create a future in which it is possible to help each person tailor the healthiest possible lifestyle, and when necessary, to treat each patient with an individually designed medication,” Paz said.
Paz joined local dignitaries for the institute dedication, including Sen. Bob Casey and state Department of Health Acting Secretary Michael Wolf.
The institute is developing the necessary resources for personalized medicine research, including a biorepository to collect, process and store—with informed consent—blood and tissue samples from patients who visit Penn State Hershey Medical Center and its outpatient practice sites, plus the technology and computing power needed to analyze these samples. Together with information stored in the electronic health record, this secure bank of de-identified biological samples will allow scientists and physicians to develop better ways to diagnose, treat or cure certain diseases and illnesses, particularly those more prevalent in people living in central Pennsylvania.
“Our efforts to advance personalized medicine will not be confined to the laboratory and research space we are unveiling today,” said Dr. Daniel Notterman, vice dean for research and graduate studies for the College of Medicine, Penn State’s associate vice president for health sciences research, and professor of pediatrics, biochemistry and molecular biology. “We are also engaging the communities and patients we serve in our efforts. Patients who volunteer to give samples for use in this important research can take pride in knowing they are helping us to uncover better ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent diseases and conditions that affect not only them but others in their families and in our community.”
The institute’s new space and equipment were supported by $2.85 million in National Institutes of Health funds and by $1.5 million in state tobacco settlement CURE grant funds.
The public can learn more about personalized medicine and participating in the Penn State Hershey biorepository at two town hall sessions in March: March 5 at 7 p.m. at the University Conference Center on the Penn State Hershey campus, and March 19 at 7 p.m., at Penn State Hershey Medical Group—Camp Hill. More information on these sessions will be available soon on the institute’s web site, med.psu.edu/ipm.
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