With a new $11.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, UNLV wants to help the country move to a more data-driven approach to medicine.
The university announced the five-year award Friday and said it will be used to build the state’s first center of excellence in personalized medicine.
“This definitely is one of those areas that’s cutting edge,” said Zachary Miles, associate vice president of economic development for UNLV. “We’re hitting on the front lines of novel research and innovations.”
The award marks the first time UNLV will lead a project funded through the NIH’s Center of Biomedical Research Excellence, and research will be led by faculty in the Nevada Institute of Personalized Medicine.
“In each of us, there’s a personalized genetic code,” said Martin Schiller, UNLV life sciences professor and lead researcher on the grant. “And just like the computer code … it’s the blueprint for everything, all your behaviors, ailments.”
Schiller said the institute will determine how to take advantage of the personalized genetic code and, through high-end research, analyze it in new ways.
One way personalized medicine is being used today is in cancer treatment. For example, 80 percent of breast cancer cases fall into the estrogen-receptor positive or progesterone-receptor positive categories.
“Unless you identify which one you have, you don’t get the specific drug for that type,” Schiller said. “And if you’re not using this in cancer care, you’re not getting treated correctly.”
One of the projects faculty will tackle involves “cancers of unknown primaries,” meaning doctors don’t know where the tumor originated.
“We can use genetic profiling to figure out where it came from,” Schiller said.
In addition to advancing human genetic research, Schiller said the grant award is exciting because the NIPM has become a self-sustaining center.
The NIPM was founded in 2015 with money from Gov. Brian Sandoval’s Knowledge Fund. The institute draws scientists from across the UNLV campus to improve individual and community health in Nevada through research and technology commercialization, education and workforce training. Research activity has generated two start-up companies within the past two years.
“I knew the state shouldn’t be supporting something like this for very long,” Schiller said. “We’re the first project to become sustainable on non-state dollars. We’ll be able to build ourselves into the future and sustain ourselves on clinical funding.”