The University School of Medicine announced the Center for Health Equity and Precision Medicine Monday. The center will bring together experts across University departments working to challenge large public health disparities.
Professor of Medicine Dr. Keith Keen is the center’s founding director. Keen began at the School of Medicine in December after serving as the director of the Center for Health Disparities at East Carolina University.
The center will focus on improving the health of minority groups, low-income patients and rural residents in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its mission contributes to the goals of the 10-year strategic plan that U.Va. Health announced in October, which aims to serve the changing health needs of all Virginians by making improvements across healthcare disciplines.
Through the center, Keen specifically is investigating the genetic risk factors of diseases using samples from underserved or marginalized communities to improve the burden of specific conditions, such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and diabetes, in those groups.
Keen said the goal for this new interdisciplinary center is to integrate precision medicine with the public health sciences.
“We'll use the genomics work that we do here in the Center for Public Health Genomics along with public health and health informatics approaches to think about how we can improve the health and well-being of rural, economically challenged and racial [and] ethnic minority populations,” Keen said to U.Va. Health Newsroom.
The center will use large data sets to examine how social determinants of health, such as living conditions and economic stability, work with biological factors to influence human diseases. Keen said they will use this information with health records to understand why certain patients are developing specific diseases and having specific responses to treatments.
“Being able to incorporate all of those types of data can really help us think about the overall picture of health and healthcare,” Keene said. “We see how desperately it is needed — across the state there is just an increasing lack of specialists and an increasing lack of access. We want to do something about that, and to ensure people have good options.”
The center intends to use this holistic approach to reduce health disparities in Virginia and beyond.