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Scripps Wants To Personalize Health Care With $120M Grant

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Photo by Canada 2020

Dr. Eric Topol demonstrates a mobile health app on a smartphone.

Scripps Wants To Personalize Health Care With $120M Grant


Steve Steinhubl, director of digital medicine, Scripps Translational Science Institute


Scripps Translational Science Institute received a $120 million, five-year grant from the federal government last week to help recruit hundreds of thousands of participants in a study researchers hope will fundamentally change the way patients receive health care.

The grant will allow Scripps and others to enroll one million subjects across the nation. Scientists will use smartphone sensors and a mobile app to gather real-time health information, such as heart rate, along with more traditional data such as patients' medical histories or genetic information.

The study, which is expected to go on for decades, could provide a model for doctors to personalize their patients' care, according to Scripps director of digital medicine Dr. Steve Steinhubl. He said doctors currently practice "population medicine," recommending treatments based on what has worked on a population of people. For example, giving aspirin to 1,000 patients may reduce their risk of heart attack overall, but some may have bad reactions to aspirin. Steinhubl said he hopes the sensors and other devices will allow doctors to understand patients better on an individual level.

"More than a study, it will be a model for how health care can be provided in the future," Steinhubl said.

He likened the project to a modern-day version of the Framingham heart study, which followed several thousand residents of Framingham, Massachusetts beginning in 1948. Researchers discovered high-blood pressure increased patients' risk of stroke and exercise decreased that risk — basic tenets of heart disease now, but novel at the time. The study was based on annual medical exams with the Framingham residents, according to Steinhubl.

"But Framingham isn’t representative of the entire U.S. and annual exams aren't representative of their daily lives," he said. "Even still, we’ve learned a lot from that one study."

Steinhubl joins KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday with more on the way Scripps' research could change health care.

Those interested can sign up here for updates from the Precision Medicine Initiative program.


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