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STAT: Precision Medicine Helped Eric Dishman Beat Cancer. Now He’s Leading Obama’s Initiative

Photography by Portland Oregon Photographer Craig MItchelldyer www.craigmitchelldyer.com 503.513.0550

Eric Dishman

Washington, DC, April 13, 2016 ― Sheila Kaplan reports on STAT that Eric Dishman is a guy who doesn’t mind pulling up his shirt, loosening his pants, and giving himself an ultrasound in front of hundreds of people.

Dishman did it for a 2013 TED talk to demonstrate the usefulness of modern health technology — by showing that his new kidney was doing okay.  It isn’t what you’d expect from a guy who’s about to take on a big role for the Obama administration.

But for Dishman, the INTEL health advocate named Monday to lead a key part of the president’s Precision Medicine Initiative, it’s all part of his mission: using his first-hand experience with doctors and hospitals to convince people that the future of medicine can be very different from what it has been.

The TED talk gives a clue to why Dishman was chosen.  The 48-year-old Oregonian, who is not a physician, not a PhD, and not a geneticist, has a hard-won qualification: he used precision medicine to rid himself of the kidney cancer that plagued him since college.  And he is determined that others can benefit the same way.

“I think I’m alive on this earth to do this,” he said in an April 11 interview with STAT.

The Precision Medicine Initiative, which President Obama announced in January 2015, is designed to help tailor disease prevention and treatment to individuals’ lifestyles, genes, environments, and preferences.

Under the “cohort program” — the part of the initiative that Dishman will lead — the National Institutes of Health plans to build a group of 1 million participants, who will be followed over time and analyzed for their genetic makeup, any diseases they experience, response to various treatments, and other data.

The project also includes ongoing efforts with the US Department of Veterans Affairs, which has enrolled more than 450,000 veterans in a similar effort.

A key point of the program is that the participants will be recruited to reflect the nation’s diversity, and also to include women, who are often excluded from trials.

The biggest challenge Dishman sees is getting patient advocacy groups, and researchers from different diseases, to agree that for now, no one disease gets priority treatment.

“If we get pulled back into this disease versus that disease funding, we will have not done our service,” he told STAT.

For Kaplan’s full STAT story, click here.

Follow Kaplan on Twitter @BySheilaKaplan.


Follow STAT — which reports from the frontiers of health and medicine — on Twitter @statnews.