Health leaders know that a major predictor of a person’s lifespan is their ZIP code.
“If you live in Lower Merion Township, you’ll expect to live until 92, but just across town in Strawberry Mansion, life expectancy is in the range of only 64 years,” said Dr. Larry Kaiser, president and CEO of Temple University Health System. “Inequalities in income, employment and education and other social determinants account for nearly two decades difference.”
In an effort to address those inequities and advance individualized prevention, treatment and care for people of all backgrounds, Temple has joined the National Institutes of Health and the University of Pittsburgh to open an enrollment site for the All of Us Research Program.
They aim to enroll more than one million participants nationwide, including 100,000 Pennsylvanians, particularly from communities that have been underrepresented in research — making the program the largest, most diverse resource of its kind.
“All of Us will advance precision medicine and ideally the promotion of health like nothing before — equipping us to better predict, prevent and treat a wide range of disease in a far more individualized and targeted fashion. No more one size fits all,” Kaiser said during a press conference Thursday afternoon.
“Participants in the program should be proud to contribute to a national effort to improve the health of generations to come.”
Precision medicine is an emerging approach to disease treatment and prevention that considers differences in people’s lifestyles, environments and biological makeup, including genes. By partnering with 1 million people who share information about themselves over many years, All of Us will enable research to more precisely prevent and treat a variety of health conditions.
Antonisha Sinclair, a 35-year-old resident of Mt. Airy, was among the first to sign up at Temple during the official site enrollment launch.
“I wanted to actually take part just to be involved and to contribute as much as I can,” Sinclair said.
“After reading about it, I figured this is really something good, especially for the city of Philadelphia. I would definitely encourage others to join All of Us.”
NIH has funded more than 100 organizations throughout the U.S. to be partners in the program, including Temple and Pitt. Volunteers will join more than 200,000 participants across the U.S. who have already enrolled in All of Us.
“All of Us will provide a genetic database that will allow us for the first time to understand the relationship between genetics and both the causes and treatments of human disease,” said Dr. Arthur M. Feldman, All of Us lead investigator at Temple.
“It is a tool that should inform physicians and patients for over a half century into the future. Having a center in North Philadelphia is of particular importance because it will allow us to address an important health disparity — the limited understanding of the genetic basis of disease in minority populations.”
Kaiser noted that Temple’s 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment has identified 42 disparities in health status in North Philadelphia.
Local clergy and political leaders were on hand to express their support for the research initiative.
State Sen. Sharif Street (D-Phila.) encouraged researchers to ensure the science developed as a result of All of Us is applied equitably throughout the community.
“I would challenge them to make sure that the science is applied in a way that folks who may not be of great means could have their lives bettered, too, and that it is applied in a socially and ethically responsible way,” he said.
Temple has formed a partnership with Greater Saint Matthews Baptist Church to help inform members of the African-American community about the program.
“It is no secret that our community has been underrepresented in these types of studies and for good reason,” said the Rev. Steven Avinger, pastor of North Philadelphia-based Greater Saint Matthews Baptist Church.
“We all know some of the issues that have occurred between our community and some of the health care universities, but now is the time for us to come together so that our community can have some of the same benefits of healing and of identifying issues in our community that can help us to live longer.”
“We are particularly interested in this process because we believe pastoring in an area where there are so many health disparities, we have to be involved,” he added.
As a research assistant for the All of Us program, Jeffrey Devoe strives to educate community members about the program.
“I’m able to connect with people in my community, build relationships and educate them about the importance of health and their participation in medical research to improve their future,” said Devoe, a 32-year-old North Philadelphia native.
“In reaching out to community members, I hope that they would take a little more interest in their own health and would see the importance of precision medicine research that is taking place right here in Philadelphia. I hope they will be excited as I am to be a part of this.”
All of Us is open to people ages 18 and older. Participants are asked to share health and lifestyle information through online surveys and electronic health records. They will be asked to visit a local partner site to provide blood and urine samples and to have basic physical measurements taken, such as height and weight. Participants may also share data through wearable technology devices and may be asked to join follow-up research studies, including clinical trials.
In the future, children will be able to enroll and the program will add more data types such as genetic data.