In his 2015 State of the Union address, then-President Barack Obama called for a new initiative to better track, study and treat American health issues.
“I want the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of medicine — one that delivers the right treatment at the right time,” Obama said. “So tonight, I’m launching a new Precision Medicine Initiative to bring us closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes, and to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier. We can do this.”
Four years later, the proposal given to Congress has become the All of Us research program.
The program is run by the National Institutes of Health with the goal of gathering the medical data of one million people “to accelerate research and improve health.”
In order to reach such a large number of people, the NIH has partnered with a number of academic and medical institutions around the country, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Part of a consortium that includes Marshfield Clinic, the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin, UW Health serves as a key partner, assisting with outreach and enrollment efforts in south central Wisconsin.
All of Us Wisconsin is aiming to reach a wide variety of people across the state, which is why it’s made shop at the UW Health’s Fort Atkinson clinic.
With one million people enrolled, researchers will be able to use a massive amount of data to study biological, environmental and physiological differences in health, according to research coordinator Alex Conrad.
“The All of Us research study is aimed at making medicine more personalized,” Conrad said.
By collecting such a large amount of data, physicians will be able to understand exactly how different factors impact our health, according to Conrad.
“Maybe the doctor will ask you all about where you grew up, what you’ve been exposed to throughout your life, and then use all of that to make an informed decision about what treatments work best for you based on your individual personal physiology,” Conrad said. “But the problem is that we don’t have enough information to be able to make all of the connections we want to yet.”
The program also aims to gather data from communities that historically have been left out of medical research such as people who live in rural areas, people of color, the LGBTQ community and senior citizens.
With the Fort Atkinson clinic, the All of Us program is able to reach the rural and elderly communities it’s aiming to study, according to Conrad.
“Here is why it’s important to include urban and rural communities,” Conrad said. “Because there’s different health outcomes sometimes. That could be air pollution, right? There’s not that much out here, but there is in cities. How does that impact folks differently?”
Conrad, who works out of the Fort Atkinson clinic, said she has had a number of people say to her that they shouldn’t be included because they’re too old or don’t live in the city.
“I have to say to them, ‘no you’re exactly who we want,’” Conrad said.
The research of older people specifically will allow doctors to better understand the aging process, which surprisingly they don’t know that much about, according to Conrad.
“This is a thing that happens to everyone, but we don’t really understand it,” Conrad said. “That’s really scary.”
The data collected will be used to study and understand all sorts of medical problems, big and small, rare and common.
“Our big three are cancer, diabetes and heart disease,” Conrad said. “But it’s been posited that with a million people, researchers could look for rarer things if they want because it’s such a large sample size. There’s so many rare diseases, we just don’t have enough people to look at. But this could serve to fill that need.”
Diana Woelfle is a Fort Atkinson resident who went to the UW Clinic to learn more about the program. She said she’s fascinated by it and is considering joining because it can help people in the future.
“I might join in,” Woelfle said. “We have to do whatever we can for the health of generations to come.”
To sign up, people can create an account at allofus.wisc.edu and consent to sharing their electronic health records, which are protected by security models to help ensure data is protected and used ethically and responsibly. Then they can go into the clinic to have height and weight measurements taken and give blood and urine samples to be tested.
Participants receive $25 and can get updates on how their data has been used to solve medical problems.
For more information, including how to participate, visit allofus.wisc.edu or https://www.uwhealth.org/all-of-us-research-program/52683.; email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 888-294-2661. The Fort Atkinson clinic is located at 1620 Mehta Lane.