University of Iowa to participate in four-state Heartland Consortium as part of the All of Us Research Program to advance precision medicine

Date: Wednesday, September 13, 2023


The University of Iowa will participate in a new Midwest consortium being established as part of the National Institutes of Health All of Us Research Program. The Heartland Consortium will be led by the University of Kansas Medical Center and also includes academic medical centers at the University of Missouri and the University of Nebraska. 

KU Medical Center and its partners will receive $6.3 million in initial funding, with renewal potential every year for four additional years. 


Reflecting America’s diverse populations to advance precision medicine 

The goal of the All of Us Research Program is to advance precision medicine research, one day enabling clinicians to tailor patient care by accounting for individual differences in biology, behavior, and environment. To that end, the program has created a national research resource that will include comprehensive de-identified health information from more than 1 million people in the United States. 

“It’s vital that the All of Us Research Program reflect the true diversity of the United States to allow researchers to better understand how differences in what it’s like where we live, our lifestyle and DNA impact our health and disease,” said Holly A. Garriock, PhD, chief cohort development officer at the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program. “The Heartland Consortium will provide opportunities for more communities to participate in medical research and be represented in the All of Us dataset, enabling researchers to discover breakthroughs relevant to their communities.” 

Alejandro Comellas speaks to the camera in a white coat in a hospital room.
Dr. Alejandro Comellas

Alejandro Comellas, MD, clinical professor of internal medicine—pulmonary, critical care and occupational medicine with University of Iowa Health Care, is principal investigator for the UI. Comellas is also the director of the clinical research unit at the UI Institute for Clinical and Translational Science (ICTS). 

“We are very excited to participate in the All of Us Heartland Consortium,” Comellas says. “The aims of the consortium align perfectly with one of the main goals of the ICTS, which is to engage our statewide community in research, extending the benefits of their participation beyond the boundaries of our academic medical center.”  

A network of consortia made up of health care provider organizations help enroll participants, but this is the first consortium dedicated to engaging participants throughout the Midwest. Together, the Heartland Consortium seeks to enroll more than 6,000 participants in its first year. 

In particular, the Heartland Consortium aims to boost the participation of people who live in rural areas and other groups historically underrepresented in research. According to Comellas, people who live in these rural Midwestern states experience unique environmental factors that influence health and disease, and that are different from the factors that affect people living and working in urban environments. 


Partnerships, community engagement across Iowa are key to success 

Initially, the UI team will seek to engage and recruit participants from rural areas who travel to Iowa City to receive care at UI Hospitals & Clinics, but the long-term goal is to develop strategies to connect with participants in their home communities across the state. Comellas says this approach will involve partnering with health care facilities and providers, and with community organizations that work with different rural populations. One such connection that already exists is the IRENE network; a network of primary care clinics throughout the state. The partnerships established through this network will help the UI team reach rural Iowans to inform them about All of Us and offer them the opportunity to participate. Heather Schacht Reisinger, PhD, UI professor of internal medicine—general internal medicine and Associate Director of Engagement, Integration, and Implementation for the ICTS, will help lead the UI community engagement initiatives for the All of Us Research Program. 

“It says it in the name of the initiative: 'All of Us.' It is exciting to be part of this collaboration with NIH and with our neighboring states. It is a recognition that when we do the work to include all of us science is stronger and ultimately more impactful. Our team is looking forward to involving as many Iowans as possible in this important initiative.”

The team also plans to use mobile clinics and dedicated coordinators who will travel throughout the state to consent and recruit participants.  

“The community engagement aspect is particularly important in ensuring retention of our participants by educating them and continuing to communicate with them on the progress of the program,” Comellas says. 

Unlike research studies that focus on one disease or group of people, All of Us is building a broad database that can inform thousands of studies on a variety of health conditions. Researchers will be able to tap into this resource for data to better understand the risk factors for certain diseases and inform future treatments and prevention. All of Us follows all federal, state, and local laws in keeping data safe. The program removes all personal details from the data to prevent participants from being identified. 

The goal of All of Us is to speed up health research discoveries, enabling new kinds of individualized health care. 



The All of Us Heartland Consortium is funded by the National Institutes of Health award OT2OD036430. 

All of Us is a registered service mark of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).