‘All of Us’: Omaha Hosts National Precision Medicine Study

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May 23rd, 2019

OMAHA, Neb. — A national health research program aimed at advancing the concept of precision medicine made a visit to Omaha last week.

All of Us, created by the National Institutes of Health, launched nationwide enrollment in 2018. Its goal is to gather data from 1 million or more volunteer participants regarding their health, wellness, lifestyle, genetics, and more.

The National Alliance for Hispanic Health, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and several other community partners worked together to host one of the program’s research buses, which was parked for four days on Metropolitan Community College’s South Omaha campus.

One goal of the program is gathering information from minority populations, such as the Latino community, which is underrepresented in U.S. health care research.

Emiliano Lerda, executive director at the Immigrant Legal Center and a leader in Omaha’s Latino community, paid a visit to the research bus and stressed the importance of representation in research data.

“Unless the Latino community and the immigrant community participates in these type of research projects,” Lerda said, “the preventative measures and the solutions and discoveries and advances in medicine to address health-related issues is not going to include our demographic. It’s not going to be designed to address issues that are particular to our demographic. And so that’s why it’s absolutely important.”

Mel Lopez, a program tour manager, said the stop in Omaha had been very successful; she estimated more than a hundred people had stopped by.

Lopez noted that people can enroll in the program through a cell phone number rather than an email address and that participants must be U.S. residents—but not necessarily have citizenship—to qualify. These are two tactics Lopez thinks can boost Latino participation in these studies.

She said many participants also came to the research bus with personal stories that further illustrated the importance of the precision medicine concept.

“I’ve been noticing that everyone’s come with their stories of how, like, ‘My daughter was misdiagnosed, and she got sicker because they weren’t giving her the correct treatment.’ And so we’ve been seeing those stories come out from the community, where everyone’s had a personal reason to sign up.”

People who completed enrollment in the program received a $25 gift card as an inducement to signing up, Lopez said. She added that a longer-term benefit of participation is that individuals can find out more about their health and genetics through the blood samples they gave— they can then access that data going forward.

“If you didn’t know you’re genetically predisposed to something, you’ll actually be finding out a little bit more about yourself,” Lopez said. “You might not even know.”

Dr. Athena Ramos, assistant professor in the Center for Reducing Health Disparities in UNMC’s College of Public Health, said there are several other health care research initiatives focused on Latino communities across the Midwest that are currently underway.

“For example, right now we are conducting a study of the health and safety risk of Latino immigrant cattle feed yard workers,” she said. “We’re also conducting a study about pain among meatpacking plant workers. We’ve got some initiatives that are exploring community welcoming and how communities integrate newcomers and immigrants into the community life.”

Next stop for the All of Us research bus is Grand Island, where it will be in town gathering information for the project May 21-24.

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