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NIH’s All of Us Program Joins Fight Against COVID-19

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We’ve learned so much about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), but there’s still much more that we need to learn in order to defeat this devastating pandemic. Among the critical questions: why do some young people who appear healthy and have no history of chronic disease get very sick from the virus? And why do some people in their 80s or 90s seemingly just shrug off the infection? There’s something going on biologically, but we don’t yet have the answers.

We do, however, have some resources that will enable us to examine lots of data in search of biological clues. One of them is NIH’s All of Us Research Program, which is seeking the help of 1 million people to build one of the most diverse health databases in our nation’s history. Two years after its national launch, the program already has enrolled nearly 350,000 diverse participants from across the United States.

As its name suggests, All of Us is open to all people over age 18 in communities all around the country. An important strength of the effort has been welcoming participants from all backgrounds. Indeed, about 75 percent of people who have volunteered for the program come from groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in medical research. That includes people from many racial and ethnic minority groups, as well as those of many different ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and geographic locations, including remote and rural areas.

Because of COVID-19 and the need for physical distancing to curb the spread of the potentially deadly virus, All of Us has been forced to halt temporarily all in-person appointments. But program leaders, including Josh Denny, chief executive officer of All of Us, and Kelly Gebo, the program’s chief medical and scientific officer, saw an opportunity to roll up their sleeves and help during this unprecedented public health challenge. In fact, Gebo reports that they’d already been hearing from many of their participant partners that they wanted to be a part of the solution to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To rise to this challenge, the All of Us Research Program has just announced three initiatives to assist the scientific community in seeking new insights into COVID-19. The program will:

• Test blood samples from 10,000 or more participants for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, indicating prior infection. The testing will start on samples collected in March 2020 and work backward until positive tests are no longer found. This will show the prevalence of novel coronavirus exposure among All of Us participants from across the country, allowing researchers to sift through the data and assess the varying rates and timing of infections across regions and communities.

• Rapidly collect relevant information from more than 200,000 participants who have shared their electronic health records. A number of those participants have already either been diagnosed with COVID-19 or sought health care for related symptoms. The program is working to standardize this information. It will help researchers look for patterns and learn more about COVID-19 symptoms and associated health problems, as well as the effects of different medicines and treatments.

• Deploy a new online survey to understand better the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on participants’ physical and mental health. This 20- to 30-minute survey is designed both for participants who have been ill with COVID-19 and those who have not knowingly been infected. Questions will be included on COVID-19 symptoms, stress, social distancing and the economic impacts of the pandemic. Participants are invited to take the survey each month until the pandemic ends, so researchers can study the effects of COVID-19 over time and begin to better understand how and why COVID-19 affects people differently.

As this data becomes available, researchers will look for new leads to inform our efforts to bring greater precision to the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of COVID-19, including for those communities that have been hit the hardest. Another hope is that what is learned about COVID-19 through All of Us and other NIH-supported research will provide us with the knowledge and tools we need to avert future pandemics,

In case you’re wondering, I happen to be among the thousands of people who’ve already volunteered to take part in All of Us. If you’d like to get involved too, new participants are always welcome to join.

Links:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) (NIH)

All of Us Research Program (NIH)

Join All of Us (NIH)


New Chief Executive Officer for All of Us

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All of Us Swearing-In Ceremony for Josh Denny
On January 27, 2020, Josh Denny joined the NIH family as chief executive officer of the All of Us Research Program. He comes to us from Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, where among his many duties, Josh helped to lead the All of Us Data and Research Center. After the swearing-in ceremony, I took this photo with Josh and his wife Carolyn. Credit: NIH

NIH Seeks Inaugural Chief Data Strategist

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The NIH is seeking a visionary technology leader to serve as our inaugural Chief Data Strategist. I anticipate this will be someone with industry experience who can deliver next generation technology platforms to harmonize our massive, complex data sets and build a 21st century workforce. Several colleagues and I filmed a video to share more about this position and how it can change the future of computing, while accelerating life-saving research breakthroughs for decades to come. Learn more and please consider applying. Credit: NIH

All of Us Research Program Speaker Series

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I took part in the inaugural All of Us Research Program Speaker Series live-streamed on YouTube on March 14, 2019. Here I’m preparing for this 30-minute program with Dara Richardson-Heron, chief engagement officer for the All of Us Research Program. The live stream provided an opportunity to interact with a range of people about the latest advances in precision medicine and how All of Us will accelerate this incredibly promising area of research. Credit: All of Us Research Program

Visiting with an All of Us Research Program Team

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Dr. Francis Collins poses with All of Us Research grantees
It was wonderful spending an afternoon with the All of Us Research Program team that’s so hard at work in the San Diego area. The team members shared with me their outreach efforts, accomplishments, and goals moving ahead. The All of Us Research Program will partner with 1 million or more people residing in the United States to advance research and improve health. Our meeting took place at the Scripps Research Translational Institute, La Jolla, CA on December 4, 2018. Credit: All of Us

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