White House Champions of Change for Precision Medicine

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The Precision Medicine Champions of Change with Dr. Francis Collins.

The Precision Medicine Champions of Change with NIH Director Francis Collins.

I have always been proud to be an American. I like to think that I’ve done things for the betterment of our country through the years. For more than a decade, I worked with paralyzed veterans, and I like to think I made a positive impact there. It is rare that any of us get any major recognition for our work, but on July 8th, I was invited by the White House to speak about my new passion – cancer research. Along with 8 other Americans, I was recognized for making a positive impact on precision medicine. The award was a great honor, and it was so motivating to be in the room with so many passionate, innovative people!

While the experience is still fresh in my mind, I wanted to share some of it with all of you. As you might imagine, an honor like this was uplifting and also a little intimidating. I mean, the White House! I had been as a visitor, but never as a guest! We had specific times that we were allowed to enter, based on what we were doing that day. I was allowed in early, but the folks with me had times staggered throughout the day that they could enter.

Richard was with two key players in the database effort – Adam Resnick and Jay Storm. I was so glad to have all of them there to keep my thoughts on track. Talking with them is so invigorating! Their clarity of vision and intense desire to help children is so motivating. I wish I could relate their passion to everyone. Being in that environment is likeĀ  watching a hot air balloon come to life… Filling and filling until it rises off the ground and soars to its higher purpose. We all have that purpose inside us, and being with others who can help us see our purpose is one of life’s most amazing gifts.

So they were with me in spirit, but I entered the building alone. After a security check, I was in and looking for our meeting room. The Champions gathered waiting for our turn to be filmed for a quick segment on precision medicine. Not sure when that will be available for viewing, but it was a good way to start the day.

After that, we went into round table discussions on various aspects of precision medicine. Richard, Adam, and Jay were all in the building in time to participate in these sessions. There was valuable information shared, but the sessions were too short to really hear from all the participants. There were many people in the room that I wanted to hear more from. I’m hoping that we will have a chance to connect after everyone returns to their normal lives.

We had a quick lunch break but the guys and I had gotten separated. Luckily, that is about the time that Kevin Beezhold arrived. Kevin is one of the people who nominated me for the award so it was great to get to meet him in person. He and I discussed his thoughts on my upcoming panel questions, and it was good to get his perspective.

By this time, we were able to reconnect with Richard, Jay, and Adam. One last pep talk and I was off to meet NIH Director Francis Collins! He was very aware of my personal story and seemed receptive to Dragon Master’s database project. I got the chance to tell him that we would love to work in conjunction with the NIH and he seemed receptive to that idea.

A portion of the afternoon is available on YouTube: http://bit.ly/1fv5nne

The room was filled with passionate people who care deeply about making a positive impact on healthcare and precision medicine. And oddly enough, they seemed to be mostly in agreement on the changes that need to happen:

  • greater sharing of data, especially to new populations of people like patients and their families
  • education of the general public so they will understand their rights when it comes to data
  • special care to include parts of the population that may feel alienated from the process

I’m proud to say that the database we are working on will definitely address the data sharing issues. I hope that as we are building it we can also help people understand their role in how this data can be used. We want to include everyone in the process of collecting and using the data, so I hope that we can be transparent in the process and help everyone feel secure about their choices to share data.

In an effort to help people understand why this is all so important, I’m going to be making some videos about our database and how it can be used. We will be taping some of these videos at WSU on Thursday, July 16th at 10am in the Rhatigan Student Center. I’d love it if you could join us, and ask any questions you may have about Dragon Master Foundation and our database.