A $1.4 million, five-year institutional training grant from the National Institutes of Health will support post-doctoral fellows at the University of Illinois at Chicago interested in clinical and translational research in lifestyle precision medicine — an emerging field that tailors behavioral treatments and lifestyle modification recommendations based on an individual’s genetics, lifestyle and environment.

Lifestyle-based behaviors, such as smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise or sleep, as well as social determinants of health, including poverty and lack of access to health care, are major contributors to the development of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

“Helping people modify behaviors or targeting therapies to take into account differences in human biology and social determinants of health can have a bigger impact on improving people’s health than the conventional one-size-fits-all approach,” said Dr. Jun Ma, professor of medicine in the UIC College of Medicine and one of the principal investigators on the grant.

Each trainee will be mentored by two or three faculty members in UIC’s seven health sciences colleges, as well as the College of Engineering.

“Being able to have mentors from across multiple disciplines make this training program unique,” said Dr. Ben Gerber, professor of medicine in the UIC College of Medicine and a co-principal investigator on the training grant, which will support postdoc trainees for two to three years each.

The trainees will engage in transdisciplinary research in precision lifestyle medicine and focus on uncovering the underlying biophysiological changes and socio-environmental contexts that accompany behavior change.

“We want to identify the micro- and macro-level mechanisms that help drive behavior change and well-being. If we understand those mechanisms, we can further refine the tailoring of treatment to the individual and, at the same time, scale to impact population health,” said Ma, who is also director of the Center for Health Behavior Research in the UIC Institute for Health Research and Policy.

The grant is a Precision Lifestyle Medicine and Translational Research grant, called PREMIER.