The United States Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) was announced by then President Barack Obama in January 2015. It is a national effort designed to take into account genetic, environmental, and lifestyle differences in the development of individually tailored forms of treatment and prevention. This goal was implemented in March 2015 with the formation of an advisory committee working group to provide a framework for the proposed national research cohort of one million or more participants. The working group further held a public workshop on participant engagement and health equity, focusing on the design of an inclusive cohort, building public trust, and identifying active participant engagement features for the national cohort. Precision techniques offer medical and public health practitioners the opportunity to personally tailor preventive and therapeutic regimens based on informatics applied to large volume genotypic and phenotypic data. The PMI’s (All of Us
Research Program’s) medical and public health promise, its balanced attention to technical and ethical issues, and its nuanced advisory structure made it a natural choice for inclusion in the University of Michigan course “Issues in Public Health Genetics” (HMP 517), offered each fall by the University’s School of Public Health. In 2015, the instructors included the PMI as the recurrent case study introduced at the beginning and referred to throughout the course, and as a class exercise allowing students to translate issues into policy. In 2016, an entire class session was devoted to precision medicine and precision public health. In this article, we examine the dialogues that transpired in these three course components, evaluate session impact on student ability to formulate PMI policy, and share our vision for next-generation courses dealing with precision health. Methodology
: Class materials (class notes, oral exercise transcripts, class exercise written hand-ins) from the three course components were inspected and analyzed for issues and policy content. The purpose of the analysis was to assess the extent to which course components have enabled our students to formulate policy in the precision public health area. Analysis of student comments responding to questions posed during the initial case study comprised the initial or “pre-” categories. Analysis of student responses to the class exercise assignment, which included the same set of questions, formed the “post-” categories. Categories were validated by cross-comparison among the three authors, and inspected for frequency with which they appeared in student responses. Frequencies steered the selection of illustrative quotations, revealing the extent to which students were able to convert issue areas into actual policies. Lecture content and student comments in the precision health didactic session were inspected for degree to which they reinforced and extended the derived categories. Results
: The case study inspection yielded four overarching categories: (1) assurance (access, equity, disparities); (2) participation (involvement, representativeness); (3) ethics (consent, privacy, benefit sharing); and (4) treatment of people (stigmatization, discrimination). Class exercise inspection and analysis yielded three additional categories: (5) financial; (6) educational; and (7) trust-building. The first three categories exceeded the others in terms of number of student mentions (8–14 vs. 4–6 mentions). Three other categories were considered and excluded because of infrequent mention. Students suggested several means of trust-building, including PMI personnel working with community leaders, stakeholder consultation, networking, and use of social media. Student representatives prioritized participant and research institution access to PMI information over commercial access. Multiple schemes were proposed for participant consent and return of results. Both pricing policy and Medicaid coverage were touched on. During the didactic session, students commented on the importance of provider training in precision health. Course evaluation highlighted the need for clarity on the organizations involved in the PMI, and leaving time for student-student interaction. Conclusions
: While some student responses during the exercise were terse, an evolution was detectable over the three course components in student ability to suggest tangible policies and steps for implementation. Students also gained surety in presenting policy positions to a peer audience. Students came up with some very creative suggestions, such as use of an electronic platform to assure participant involvement in the disposition of their biological sample and personal health information, and alternate examples of ways to manage large volumes of data. An examination of socio-ethical issues and policies can strengthen student understanding of the directions the Precision Medicine Initiative is taking, and aid in training for the application of more varied precision medicine and public health techniques, such as tier 1 genetic testing and whole genome and exome sequencing. Future course development may reflect additional features of the ongoing All of Us
Research Program, and further articulate precision public health approaches applying to populations as opposed to single individuals.