Archive for: October 2011

The Tip of the Iceberg for Science: Massive Biobank Starts Yielding Results

Oct 27, 2011, 9:35 AM

What do you get when you take 100,000 genotyped biological specimens and link them to longitudinal medical, environmental, behavioral and demographic data? You get Kaiser Permanente’s Research Program on Genes, Environment and Health (RPGEH), a Pioneer-supported effort that has developed the most robust and comprehensive research resource of its kind in the world.

At an unprecedented pace, researchers from the RPGEH biobank at Kaiser Permanente, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco Institute for Human Genetics, have collected 170,000 samples and genotyped over 100,000 of them in just over a year. While currently the largest biobank in the United States, the ultimate goal is even more impressive: to collect data from a half million members of the Kaiser Permanente health plan linked to their electronic health records and population surveys – creating the largest, most comprehensive biobank on the planet.

Early research findings generated from the RPGEH data were presented this month at the joint annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics and the International Conference on Human Genetics in Montreal and are featured in the November issue of Nature Medicine. From an investigation of prostate cancer among African American men to a multi-ethnic study on bipolar disorder to a pharmacogenetic study of response to metformin, a drug used to treat type-2 diabetes, the RPGEH biobank is already starting to deliver.

But this is just the beginning - experts say that the possibilities for studying genetic and environmental influences over time thanks to this project are endless, with enormous potential for accelerating both the pace and breadth of medical research. The implications not only for the science community, but also for public health leaders and patients, are immeasurable. Stay tuned.

Innovation, Optimism and Exploration at TEDMED 2011

Oct 27, 2011, 5:49 AM

Innovation often signifies progress and change. It is a sign that we’re moving the needle forward. But as we from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio attend theTEDMED sessions this week, we’ve witnessed innovation become more than a mere word or sign. It’s become a powerful feeling that emotes goose-bump excitement and enthusiasm to break down walls that can achieve new and improved standards of health and medicine.

Exploring What We Don't Know at TEDMED 2011

Oct 24, 2011, 3:00 AM

Pioneer is proud to once again sponsor TEDMED, which brings together innovative thinkers and leaders across the fields of medicine, science, business and technology. Traditionally, when people attend TEDMED, they come looking for ideas and inspiration. This year from October 25-28, the Pioneer team will be looking at things from a different perspective: What don't we know about some of the greatest challenges facing health and health care.

TEDMED has identified a tentative set of Twenty Great Challenges of Health and Medicine—deeply rooted problems with multiple, interconnected causes and ripple effects—which they plan to include as part of their 2012 conference. We’ve offered to help TEDMED examine these issues and we believe a good first step is to take a step back and ask: What don’t we know about these problems? What relationships aren’t we seeing?

To do this, we’ll be engaging all 600 conference attendees to get their thoughts on “what don’t we know” about these 20 challenges. Looking closely at what we don't know will help create a big-picture understanding of these challenges—a crucial step to developing truly effective solutions.

We invite you to join us in this exploration. Take a look at TEDMED’s Twenty Great Challenges of Health and Medicine. Then, answer the question, "What don’t we know?" about any of these challenges by tweeting #TEDMEDchallenges, posting a comment below, or e-mailing us at

Afterwards, we’ll be compiling what we heard at the conference and what you’ve told us to help TEDMED shape their new Great Challenges Program. Your input is valuable and will directly inform what is done at the TEDMED 2012 conference. We’ll share what we’ve learned in future posts.

How can you share your ideas?

Be sure to check back throughout the week and next for updates from our guests and team members.

Early Insights from Project HealthDesign

Oct 21, 2011, 10:31 AM


As more patients begin using technology to manage their health, the Pioneer Portfolio's National program Project HealthDesign is helping meet the demand by designing tools that can be used by real people to improve their health and engagement with their health care providers. In the true pioneering spirit, Project HealthDesign research teams are working with real patients to create new technologies that help people living with chronic illnesses and improve their health and coordination of care. Patients are tracking observations of daily living (ODLs) about their sleep patterns, pain levels and moods. They use the resulting ODL data to better communicate with health care providers as they look to see what the trends in their ODLs might suggest, like whether they need to take a certain action to improve their health or whether past actions have made a difference. The incredible experiences these teams are having with real patients and clinicians have uncovered some preliminary lessons.

The teams have learned that new clinical workflows are needed in order to incorporate ODLs into clinical practice. Nurses, health coaches and other caregivers have emerged as the key points of contact for ODL data incorporation. And because each patient is different, personal health applications need to be customizable.

A key outcome of the teams’ work will be to determine how ODLs can be integrated into clinical care and individuals’ daily health decision-making processes. To learn more insights and lessons from Project HealthDesign, view the Early Findings and Challenges report for a quick overview or read the draft Technical Architectures and Implementations report for more detailed findings.

Warm Weather Brings Risk of Resistant Hospital Infections

Oct 19, 2011, 1:19 AM

Two new articles from Extending the Cure, a Pioneer-supported project that examines solutions to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, advance our understanding of the growth and spread of certain lethal hospital infections and pose policies to address the long-term challenge of antibacterial resistance.

The first article, which appeared Sept. 26 in the online journal PLoS One, describes a new study that found certain potentially lethal hospital infections are more prevalent in warmer weather. In the study researchers examined 211,697 infections reported by 132 hospitals across the nation from 1999 to 2006. The warmer the temperature, the more hospitals reported certain hard-to-treat infections. The problem was particularly severe in the summer: For example, the researchers identified a 52 percent summer spike in bloodstream infections caused by Acinetobacter baumannii, a highly resistant “superbug.”

Hospitals should be on alert during warm weather in any season in order to identify and stop the spread of these resistant infections, the authors say.

In the second article Ramanan Laxminarayan, the director of Extending the Cure at the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, and John H. Powers, associate clinical professor of medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine, argues that we need incentives to crank out newer, more powerful antibiotics and at the same time, preserve the efficacy of antibiotics we have left.

Writing in October issue of the journal Nature, they say that we must start treating antibiotics as a valuable resource, one that can be depleted with overuse and nurtured with public private partnerships(PPPs).  “In our view, government intervention through PPPs that are focused on the development of antibacterials with desirable properties, in combination with incentives to encourage the conservation of antibacterials and the achievement of resistance targets, is the best way to tackle the increasingly serious public health threat of antibacterial resistance.”

Leave a comment to tell us what you think public policy should focus on in the research, development and preservation of antibiotics.