Three Things You May Not Know About Research and Innovation at University Hospitals

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We lead the way in research funding in Ohio

UH Clinical Update | October 2019

By Cliff Megerian, MD, FACS
President, UH Physician Network and System Institutes

As University Hospitals physicians, we’re likely aware of the major accomplishments attained here since our founding in 1866, and the innovations created here in the 20th and now 21st century, especially in the last decade.

Perhaps not as well-known is that this is a result of the high-powered medical research we do. UH is the hospital system that receives the most research funding in Ohio. And, if you total up the research funding of all of our UH medical centers from the National Institutes of Health, we are among the top 10 in the U.S.

Why? It’s because of the brainpower, creativity and hard work that you, our physicians, provide.

Here’s just one recent example of a brilliant advance that will change the way medicine is practiced. It’s the result of a research trial led by UH gastroenterologist Amitabh Chak, MD, and Professor of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, into Barrett’s esophagus (BE), a condition that can be a precursor to cancer.

The incidence of esophageal adenocarcinoma has increased more than six-fold over the past 30 years, while the outcomes remain poor. Dr. Chak’s clinical trial, funded by the NIH, is aimed at catching it early, before BE becomes cancerous. (UH oncologist and hematologist Sandy Markowitz, MD, PhD, and Joseph Willis, MD, Vice-Chair of the Department of Pathology at UH, are also part of the team.)

Having heartburn may be an early symptom of Barrett’s esophagus, which is why I myself volunteered for this study. Previously, this kind of exam would have required an endoscopy, which is significantly more expensive and requires more preparation.

All I had to do was swallow a small pill, which contained a tiny plastic balloon device, attached to a string. Once in the esophagus, the balloon was inflated and gradually pulled back up, gathering cells that were then examined for biomarkers that signal the likelihood of disease progression. Fortunately, I had no sign of BE.

The device recently received 501K clearance from the FDA for clinical use and will be marketed under the name EsoCheck. It may save an untold number of lives.

Another innovation, which received international media attention, occurred on Oct. 1 when UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute physicians completed the first procedure in the world using Medtronic's new Evolut™ PRO+ TAVR System. Guilherme Attizzani, MD, Co-Director, Valve and Structural Heart Disease Center, and Associate Professor of Mecicine, School of Medicine, and Cristian Baeza, MD, cardiac surgeon, performed the procedure at UH Cleveland Medical Center.

The Evolut™ PRO+ is a new-generation TAVR (transcatheter aortic valve replacement) system. It allows us to treat patients with symptomatic severe aortic stenosis, so tens of thousands of more patients a year – who would be considered high-risk for surgery - are now eligible for this procedure.

And just last week, one of our infectious disease researchers – W. Henry Boom, MD, Chief of the Division of Infectious Disease & HIV Medicine at UH, and Professor of Medicine, School of Medicine, - and his team were awarded a $30 million contract by the National Institute of Health to establish three immunology research centers nationwide to accelerate tuberculosis vaccine developments.

There are literally dozens upon dozens examples of these innovations throughout our organization and at our hospitals. The environment that you work in here at UH is markedly different than at a typical large hospital system – because we are an academic medical center. We also are the largest enroller of clinical trial participants in the state.

We all have a responsibility to continue to build on this legacy of research and innovation. Reach out to Eric Beck, DO, President of UH Ventures, and his team if you have an idea for an innovation in patient care, a joint venture, or an advance that could be commercialized. If you have an idea for scientific research or would like some mentoring in this area, contact Mukesh Jain, MD, Chief Academic Officer, or for clinical research or clinical trials, Grace McComsey, MD, Vice President of Research and Associate Chief Scientific Officer.

Sometimes, we need to remind ourselves and each other that we are not only one of the leading hospitals for direct patient care, but that we are considered one of the top 10 hospitals where physicians are pursuing research, creating new knowledge, and improving the lives of future patients.

To contact one of any of our UH Physician-Researchers, call 216-930-5603.

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