The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) announced a partnership with the nation’s four Historically Black Medical Colleges (HBMCs) to further support the cutting-edge scientific research they are leading to address significant gaps in genomics research, create new tools and methods to prevent and treat disease, and accelerate precision health for everyone, particularly Black people and other people of color.
CZI’s Accelerate Precision Health program will advance genomics research by investing in genomics programs at each of the HBMCs—Charles Drew University College of Medicine in Los Angeles, California; Howard University College of Medicine in Washington D.C.; Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee; and Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Accelerate Precision Health program will award $46 million total in funding, or $11.5 million per institution over the next five years. Through the partnership, the HBMCs will expand research opportunities for undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral students; support the creation of a new Master of Science program in Genetic Counseling; support recruitment of anchor faculty in genomics; and fund state-of-the-art tools for data handling, storage, and analysis, among other elements. Dr. Ivory Dean, CZI’s Science Program Manager, Diversity in Science, and Dr. Hannah Valantine, CZI’s Senior Science Advisor, will oversee this new program.
“We are honored to partner with these four institutions that are national leaders and championing some of the most groundbreaking research in precision health,” said CZI Co-Founder & Co-CEO Priscilla Chan. “As pillars in their communities, the Historically Black Medical Colleges are also uniquely positioned to engage populations that have been systematically underrepresented in the scientific research process to ensure that the breakthroughs represent a healthier future for everyone.”
Precision health accounts for differences in people’s genes, environments, and lifestyles, and formulates treatment and prevention strategies based on their unique backgrounds and conditions. In contrast to a one-size-fits-all approach, precision health is used to more accurately predict what type of care for a particular disease will work in which populations of people, and is crucial to improve health outcomes for all.
“It’s important to underscore that for Black Americans, there is a large gap between representation and need in genomics research, and the time is now to support the intersection of genomics and health differences research that will advance science. Research shows that expanding representation leads to innovative discoveries,” said CZI’s Senior Science Advisor, Hannah Valantine. “Actively engaging HBMCs and the communities they serve in genomics research is a necessary approach to harness new perspectives that will fuel creative interdisciplinary research, unleash innovations that have yet to be conceived, and accelerate precision health equity.”
The deep relationships and trust between HBMCs, Black health care providers, and Black communities positions these four institutions to be natural leaders in this work. For more than a century, HBMCs have played an unmatched role in preparing Black physicians for their careers. Overwhelmingly, these institutions produce graduates who fulfill a social mission — especially in communities that are underserved — and who pursue in-demand primary care specialties, including family and internal medicine. Despite this well-documented track record, HBMCs trail their peers because of uneven infrastructure, limited research opportunities for faculty and students, low enrollment of Black students in the field of biological and data sciences, and they also tend to receive less federal research funding. The Accelerate Precision Health program will strengthen the environments needed for genomics research at HBMCs.
“Our work will address the gap between representation and need in genomics research. Given the current growth of the field of precision health, there is no better time than now to support this research,” said Steve Quake, Head of Science at CZI. “Advances from collaborations with the HBMCs will result in broader participation in and access to genomics research, and expand the population that can benefit from precision health.”
“The Howard University College of Medicine and other HBCU medical schools play a critical role as leaders in advanced medical research, resulting in significant improvements in health outcomes for African Americans and other people of color,” said Howard University President, Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick. “The new Accelerate Precision Health program supports our efforts to greatly accelerate scientific knowledge in genomics and fill gaps in health disparities research in the field. We are tremendously grateful to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative for collaborating with us to realize this vision.”
“Morehouse School of Medicine is thrilled to partner with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative on the Accelerate Precision Health program,” said Morehouse School of Medicine President and CEO Valerie Montgomery Rice, MD, FACOG. “CZI support will allow MSM to expand our educational programs and our world-class genomics research enterprise simultaneously. Through this partnership, MSM will train more graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, hire additional research scientists, and establish an endowed faculty position funded by CZI. These measures will enhance Morehouse School of Medicine’s continued commitment to academic excellence, service, and innovation as we lead the creation and advancement of health equity.”
“This partnership between CDU, our fellow Historically Black Medical Colleges, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in many ways represents an almost perfect convergence of ambition, vision, resources, and perspective,” shared Dr. David M. Carlisle, President and CEO of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. “This endeavor to address humanity’s most pressing health issues through research, regardless of color, ethnicity, gender, or other factors is nothing short of a bold and stunning step towards achieving true health equity.”
“We are incredibly excited to work with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative because of their commitment to building more inclusive and healthy futures for everyone. Their mission aligns with ours, and together, the hope of advancing health equity to serve underrepresented populations will become a reality,” said Dr. James Hildreth, President and CEO of Meharry Medical College.
With their long-standing commitment to the education, research, and health care of Black Americans, the four HBMCs are equipped and experienced to guide medical research that will directly impact Black communities, generate new scientific knowledge to advance precision health for all communities, and accelerate CZI’s mission to support the science and technology that will make it possible to prevent, cure, or manage all diseases by the end of the century.
This grant is part of a multi-year, $500 million investment CZI announced in December 2020 to support organizations leading the way to advance racial equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts. Additional CZI funds also support Black, Latina/o/x, and Indigenous students who are pursuing STEM degrees at the University of California, San Diego and UC Berkeley, as the two campuses implement aspects of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s successful Meyerhoff Scholars Program. In January 2022, CZI launched the Science Diversity Leadership program in partnership with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that aims to recognize and further the leadership and scientific accomplishments of excellent biomedical researchers who—through their outreach, mentoring, and teaching—have a record of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in their scientific fields.