Phenome-Wide Association Studies as a Tool to Advance Precision Medicine

Annu Rev Genomics Hum Genet. 2016 Aug 31;17:353-73. doi: 10.1146/annurev-genom-090314-024956. Epub 2016 May 4.


Beginning in the early 2000s, the accumulation of biospecimens linked to electronic health records (EHRs) made possible genome-phenome studies (i.e., comparative analyses of genetic variants and phenotypes) using only data collected as a by-product of typical health care. In addition to disease and trait genetics, EHRs proved a valuable resource for analyzing pharmacogenetic traits and developing reverse genetics approaches such as phenome-wide association studies (PheWASs). PheWASs are designed to survey which of many phenotypes may be associated with a given genetic variant. PheWAS methods have been validated through replication of hundreds of known genotype-phenotype associations, and their use has differentiated between true pleiotropy and clinical comorbidity, added context to genetic discoveries, and helped define disease subtypes, and may also help repurpose medications. PheWAS methods have also proven to be useful with research-collected data. Future efforts that integrate broad, robust collection of phenotype data (e.g., EHR data) with purpose-collected research data in combination with a greater understanding of EHR data will create a rich resource for increasingly more efficient and detailed genome-phenome analysis to usher in new discoveries in precision medicine.

Keywords: electronic health record; genome-wide association study; phenome-wide association study; phenotyping.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genome, Human / genetics
  • Genome-Wide Association Study / trends*
  • Humans
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics
  • Precision Medicine / trends*