UF to lead community-engaged research network for the All of Us Research Program

Dr. Linda Cottler
Dr. Linda Cottler

The University of Florida has received $1.86 million in initial funding from the National Institutes of Health to create a network that engages researchers from diverse backgrounds in the All of Us Research Program. All of Us is an NIH program designed to advance precision medicine, an approach that takes into account individual factors to tailor a treatment that works best for a specific person.

Dr. Mickey Eder
Dr. Mickey Eder

The new project for All of Us is directed by Linda B. Cottler, Ph.D., M.P.H., senior associate dean for research at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and director of community engagement for the UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and Milton “Mickey” Eder, Ph.D., an assistant professor of family medicine and community health at the University of Minnesota.

The national All of Us program launched in 2018 with a goal of gathering health data from at least 1 million people who reflect the diversity of the United States, and to follow the participants for at least a decade. Researchers can use the All of Us data to study the impact that differences in lifestyle, environment, and genetic makeup can have on individual health in order to improve health care for generations to come.

“Effective community engagement is vital to the success of the All of Us Research Program and would not be possible without the work of our partners,” said Karriem Watson, D.H.Sc., M.S., MPH, chief engagement officer of the All of Us Research Program. “They not only serve as trusted voices, raising awareness about the program; they also relay critical input from diverse communities to help guide our efforts, as we seek to accelerate discoveries and medical breakthroughs.”

The teams involved in the newly-funded project will assist with data analysis, recruit several thousand new participants to All of Us and engage with researchers from diverse backgrounds to help move precision medicine forward.

The new funding is a direct result of UF’s collaboration with the Clinical and Translational Science Awards, or CTSA Program, an initiative of NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. UF invited members of the national Partners for the Advancement of Community Engaged Research or PACER, a national Special Interest Group of the Association of Clinical and Translational Science who had designed strong community engagement programs, to help create this new engagement network.

In addition to UF funding the UMN site, other institutions funded by the new University of Florida All of Us award include the University of California, Davis; Indiana University; the University of Kentucky; Montefiore Medical Center in New York; Oregon Health and Science University; and the St. Louis-based health communications organization Health Literacy Media.

These sites represent a broad range of geographic areas, both urban and rural, where populations are experiencing a variety of health-related challenges, including opioid addiction, mental health issues, natural disasters and chronic conditions. A national community advisory board will guide the team of investigators on research questions, advise them on important local best practices for recruitment and present the research findings to communities. Health Literacy Media will translate research findings into plain language abstracts so anyone can understand them and be able to contribute to the dialogue that affects their communities.

“PACER Network members are trusted partners for many communities; they know how to mobilize other trusted partners and influencers to reach the most under-resourced groups of people in biomedical research,” said Cottler, also a dean’s professor of epidemiology at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and the UF College of Medicine, and co-chair of PACER along with Eder. “Through our well-established national networks, we will continue to partner with community members to help choose research questions relevant to their communities and find innovative ways to recruit participants in the research.”

Over the five-year award, the network will collaborate with the All of Us consortium to develop materials that resonate with diverse groups. In year one, the network will help increase the number of registered researchers using the All of Us Researcher Workbench to analyze the program’s dataset, and in subsequent years, support enhanced involvement of participants from diverse backgrounds, including those who identify with groups historically underrepresented in medical research.

Each network site will develop strategies based on their own communities by engaging health care systems, other coalitions, planning councils and community partners.

“This network is the culmination of decades of work in our communities and we are looking forward to a fruitful and exciting collaboration that will ultimately lead to improved health outcomes,” Eder said.

This work is funded by National Institutes of Health award OT2-OD031919. All of Us is a registered service mark of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.