TAG: "Innovation"

Innovation center names interim director

Karyn DiGiorgio will guide center in spreading health care delivery innovations systemwide.

Karyn DiGiorgio

Karyn DiGiorgio

Karyn DiGiorgio, M.S.N., R.N., has been appointed interim director of the UC Center for Health Quality and Innovation (CHQI).

The center, based at the UC Office of the President, is a systemwide effort launched in 2010 to support innovative grants and spread best practices that aim to improve quality, increase efficiencies and reduce costs at UC medical centers.

DiGiorgio joined UCOP in September as the associate director of CHQI, after working for the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, where she was a program officer in the Betty Irene Moore Nursing Initiative.

“The UC Center for Health Quality and Innovation will be in good hands under Karyn’s leadership,” said the center’s outgoing executive director, Terry Leach, R.N., Esq., who will continue working part time with the center until retiring from UC in July.

“I look forward to working with UC campuses and medical centers to help spread innovations that improve the delivery of health care throughout UC Health,” DiGiorgio said. “I very much appreciate having Terry’s assistance during this transition.”

At the Moore Foundation, DiGiorgio developed and managed multiple systemwide health care grants in the Bay Area and greater Sacramento regions — many of which resulted in significant reductions in patient morbidity and mortality and led to improvements in patient care. Previously, she worked as the R.N. discharge coordinator and a staff/charge nurse in the Emergency Department at UCSF Medical Center. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and holds an M.S.N. in health policy from UC San Francisco and an M.S. from Drexel University in Philadelphia.

The Center for Health Quality and Innovation is governed by a board composed of the six UC medical school deans, five UC medical center CEOs and chaired by the UC Health senior vice president. The center will host its third annual spring colloquium May 2 in Oakland.

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Top scientific minds gather for Breakthrough Prize symposium

Sold-out event at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus highlights groundbreaking research.

UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann hosted a panel discussion with the recipients of the 2014 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences during a daylong scientific symposium honoring 2013 and 2014 winners on Dec. 13. (Photo by Cindy Chew)

UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann hosted a panel discussion with the recipients of the 2014 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences during a daylong scientific symposium honoring 2013 and 2014 winners on Dec. 13.

Some of the top scientific minds converged at UC San Francisco last week as part of a two-day celebration of the 2014 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.

Living up to its nickname, the “Oscars of Science,” the celebration kicked off with a Dec. 12 gala at Moffett Field in Mountain View that was hosted by actor Kevin Spacey and attended by other Hollywood celebrities and magnates of Silicon Valley.

But the party’s real stars were the six scientists who took home the prizes: James Allison, Ph.D., of MD Anderson Cancer Center; Mahlon DeLong, M.D., of Emory University; Michael Hall, Ph.D., of the University of Basel, in Switzerland; Robert Langer, Sc.D., of MIT; Richard Lifton, M.D., Ph.D., of Yale School of Medicine; and Alex Varshavsky, Ph.D., of Caltech.

The winners, who each receive $3 million awards, joined past winners the next day for a sold-out scientific symposium at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus to highlight the groundbreaking research that earned them the prizes. The daylong event also included three of UCSF’s Nobel laureates: moderators Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D., and Stanley Prusiner, M.D., as well as Shinya Yamanaka, M.D., Ph.D., a 2013 Breakthrough Prize winner who presented at the symposium.

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Related link:
Innovative researchers honored for work fighting life-threatening diseases

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Research team enlists ‘citizen-sensors’ to improve world health

UC San Diego researchers and students seek crowdfunding support for project.

Researchers are going to deploy sensing devices in the field connected to mobile apps that allow them to track the health of individuals and the environment.

Researchers are going to deploy sensing devices in the field connected to mobile apps that allow them to track the health of individuals and the environment.

Enterprising researchers and students at UC San Diego are looking for funding to complete a “citizen-sensor” project that, they hope, will revolutionize global health and environmental monitoring – especially in remote and undeveloped areas of the planet.

They also hope to attract the faith and funding of people around the world through the open, global crowdfunding resource Indiegogo, the first partnership between UC San Diego and a funding platform.

The Indiegogo campaign, they stress, is more a call for widespread citizen participation in health monitoring than a simple appeal for funds.

“What if you could hold the power of modern medical equipment in the palm of your hand?” they ask. The device the students call “a cool gizmo” can also monitor your environment’s health by sampling the air, soil, and water for pollutants, then analyze and report the findings.

For non-Star Trek fans, the gizmo is much like the “tricorder” of the popular sci-fi series — a nifty handheld device used for scanning, analyzing, and recording data. Less evocatively named, but nearly as high-tech, the UC San Diego device is called the Open Health Stack.

It would beneficially alter the landscape of the medical economy, researchers say, first by changing how people sense and perceive their own health, and then by collecting enough data to enable changes to environmental practices or policies.

Making those ambitious goals a reality is the role of their Distributed Health Lab, a collaboration between UC San Diego’s School of Medicine and the Qualcomm Institute, the UC San Diego division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2).

Drs. Albert Yu-Min Lin and Eliah Aronoff-Spencer, co-directors of the lab, and co-principal investigators for the project, say that the multidisciplinary nature of the project will be key to its success. “We have a large number of truly talented collaborators in the School of Medicine as well in the School of Engineering,” says Lin. “Helping their different skills to coalesce, along with the amazing energy and imagination of our students, will be instrumental.”

The researchers and students – from such diverse fields as nanoengineering, medicine, machine-learning, cryptography, crowdsourced archaeology, citizen science, and human & computer ethnography – are building the Open Health Stack using cloud infrastructure, mobile apps and sensors that will collect and analyze data from individuals and the environment.

The first “layer” of the stack is SENSE, the heart of the gizmo, a health-and-environment sensor that tracks vital signs and measures, for example, heavy metals in water or cholera in streams. The pocket-size device enables users to learn more about their surroundings.

The next layer is MyOasis, a mobile app that interacts with the sensors and lets users monitor and report what the sensors discover. MyOasis visualizes data collected by SENSE, allowing users to “see” things invisible to the eye, such as heart rates.

The final layer is KEEP, a secure data-storage-and-analysis platform that detects large-scale trends, like flu outbreaks, with the help of machine-learning algorithms.

“Together,” Aronoff-Spencer says, “they provide an end-to-end solution for collecting and analyzing data at the individual, community, and global levels.”

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UCSF innovators spotlight tech’s impact on health care

“Unusual thinkers” featured at Dreamforce.

How do you enroll 1 million people into one of the largest clinical trials in history? UCSF's Jeffrey Olgin believes you reach people where they spend their time: on their smartphones. He hopes we can use mobile technology to help predict and prevent heart disease.

How do you enroll 1 million people into one of the largest clinical trials in history? UCSF's Jeffrey Olgin believes you reach people where they spend their time: on their smartphones. He hopes we can use mobile technology to help predict and prevent heart disease.

Technology and health care often go hand in hand, and UC San Francisco highlighted this budding alliance at the 11th annual Dreamforce conference, hosted by cloud computing giant Salesforce.com.

More than 110,000 people converged in downtown San Francisco for the four-day conference in November, which included UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, M.D., M.P.H., being featured during a keynote session and the UCSF “Unusual Thinkers” track exploring how cutting-edge technological approaches are revolutionizing health.

During the event, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff – who with his wife Lynne have donated $100 million to the construction of a new UCSF children’s hospital at Mission Bay – announced that Saleforce.com is donating $2.5 million to the Health eHeart study, led by UCSF cardiologist Jeffrey Olgin, M.D., who presented at the “Unusual Thinkers” track. The study aims to enroll 1 million people who can track their vital stats through their smartphones and allow researchers to access the data to better understand the causes and potential treatments for heart disease, the world’s leading cause of death.

The Dreamforce 2013 Concert for the Kids, featuring Green Day and Blondie at AT&T Park, also benefitted the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland, raising more than $6 million.

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Nanosponge vaccine fights MRSA toxins

Approach could be used to create vaccines that protect against a wide range of toxins.

The glowing yellow specks in the image show uptake of the nanosponge vaccine by a mouse dendritic cell, which is an immune-system cell.

The glowing yellow specks in the image show uptake of the nanosponge vaccine by a mouse dendritic cell, which is an immune-system cell.

Nanosponges that soak up a dangerous pore-forming toxin produced by MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) could serve as a safe and effective vaccine against this toxin. This “nanosponge vaccine” enabled the immune systems of mice to block the adverse effects of the alpha-haemolysin toxin from MRSA — both within the bloodstream and on the skin. Nanoengineers from UC San Diego described the safety and efficacy of this nanosponge vaccine in the Dec. 1 issue of Nature Nanotechnology.

The nanosponges at the foundation of the experimental “toxoid vaccine” platform are bio-compatible particles made of a polymer core wrapped in a red-blood-cell membrane. Each nanosponge’s red-blood-cell membrane seizes and detains the Staphylococcus aureus (staph) toxin alpha-haemolysin without compromising the toxin’s structural integrity through heating or chemical processing. These toxin-studded nanosponges served as vaccines capable of triggering neutralizing antibodies and fighting off otherwise lethal doses of the toxin in mice.

Toxoid vaccines protect against a toxin or set of toxins, rather than the organism that produces the toxin(s). As the problem of antibiotic resistance worsens, toxoid vaccines offer a promising approach to fight infections without reliance on antibiotics.

Liangfang Zhang, UC San Diego

Liangfang Zhang, UC San Diego

“With our toxoid vaccine, we don’t have to worry about antibiotic resistance. We directly target the alpha-haemolysin toxin,” said Liangfang Zhang, a nanoengineering professor at UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and the senior author on the paper. Targeting the alpha-haemolysin toxin directly has another perk. “These toxins create a toxic environment that serves as a defense mechanism which makes it harder for the immune system to fight Staph bacteria,” explained Zhang.

Beyond MRSA and other staph infections, the nanosponge vaccine approach could be used to create vaccines that protect against a wide range of toxins, including those produced by E. coli and H. pylori.

This work from Zhang’s Nanomaterials and Nanomedicine Laboratory at the UC San Diego included nanoengineering post-doctoral researcher Che-Ming “Jack” Hu, nanoengineering graduate student Ronnie Fang, and bioengineering graduate student Brian Luk.

The researchers found that their nanosponge vaccine was safe and more effective than toxoid vaccines made from heat-treated staph toxin. After one injection, just 10 percent of staph-infected mice treated with the heated version survived, compared to 50 percent for those who received the nanosponge vaccine. With two more booster shots, survival rates with the nanosponge vaccine were up to 100 percent, compared to 90 percent with the heat-treated toxin.

“The nanosponge vaccine was also able to completely prevent the toxin’s damages in the skin, where MRSA infections frequently take place,” said Zhang, who is also affiliated with the Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego.

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Edith Sanford partners with Athena Breast Health Network

Partnership brings personalized breast cancer risk assessment to Sanford patients.

Edith Sanford Breast Cancer (ESBC), part of the Sanford Health system based in Sioux Falls, S.D., today (Nov. 13) announced it is partnering with the Athena Breast Health Network, a University of California program, to advance the use of a personalized breast cancer risk assessment.

The innovative program includes a breast cancer risk assessment tool and a care plan for high-risk patients. Additionally, it will offer patients the opportunity to participate in research aimed at gaining a better understanding of breast cancer and its risk factors, ultimately raising the standard of care for women everywhere. This program marks another milestone in ESBC’s mission to end breast cancer

Athena Breast Health Network is a collaboration among the five University of California medical centers. ESBC is its first partner outside of California and was selected because of its expertise in breast cancer genomics and its ability to integrate the risk assessment into patient care.

“This new partnership allows us to use the latest risk assessment technology to uncover a woman’s potential to develop breast cancer and to then to develop customized care plans for her,” said Thomas Cink, M.D., a fellowship-trained breast radiologist with Edith Sanford. “A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Risk factors don’t necessarily mean a woman will develop breast cancer, but understanding them allows a woman and her physician to make more informed health care and lifestyle choices.”

As part of the new standard of care, prior to a breast screening (mammogram) appointment, Sanford Health patients will complete an Athena screening questionnaire online at home or in the clinic. Patients identified with an elevated risk will be referred to additional resources and specialists including risk-reduction programs and/or genetic counseling.

The risk assessment process evaluation includes the following risk factors for breast cancer:

  • Age
  • Personal history of breast cancer
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Personal history of ovarian cancer
  • Lifestyle (weight, smoking, alcohol use)
  • Dense breasts
  • Postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Previous radiation exposure
  • Lobular Carcinoma In Situ (LCIS)
  • Atypical hyperplasia found in breast biopsy

In the near future, Athena will integrate breast density and small variations in inherited gene profiles, or so-called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPS), into the standard risk assessment process. The Athena Breast Health Network already has collected patient-reported data on more than 41,000 women and 7,900 biospecimens from women across the state of California. In addition, the network has identified 673 women at elevated risk for breast cancer and completed 466 elevated-risk consultations with breast health specialists.

Sanford patients who complete the survey also will be given the opportunity to participate in research to further scientific knowledge on the development of breast cancer. One of the program goals is to engage the support of 4,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer to participate in a study to identify DNA, or genetic, markers.

“This milestone collaboration will benefit our patients today and women everywhere tomorrow,” said Brian Leyland-Jones, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., director of Edith Sanford’s genomic research program.  “With the help of those women who volunteer to participate in the study and through genomic sequencing, we will strive to better understand what drives breast cancer at the molecular level so we can improve treatment and someday prevent the disease altogether.”

“Our goal is to learn who is at risk for what kind of breast cancer and tailor screening and prevention accordingly,” said Laura Esserman, M.D., M.B.A., founding director of Athena and director of the UCSF Breast Care Center. “We welcome the participation of Sanford Health in this exciting practice-changing endeavor.”

Sanford Health will begin implementing the Athena screening and risk assessment model in pilot locations in the coming months. Athena will be implemented across the Sanford Health system beginning in 2014.

About Sanford Health and Edith Sanford Breast Cancer
Sanford Health is the largest rural nonprofit health care system in the nation with locations in 126 communities, in nine states. In addition, this dynamic integrated health system is now developing international clinics in Ghana, Israel and Mexico. Sanford Health has more than 26,000 employees, and includes 39 hospitals, 140 clinic locations and 1,360 physicians in 81 specialty areas of medicine.

In 2011, Sanford Health announced the launch of the Edith Sanford Breast Cancer Initiative, a bold new endeavor to end breast cancer, comprised of state-of-the-art patient care, genomic research and national fundraising through the Edith Sanford Breast Cancer Foundation. For more information, visit edithsanford.org.

About Athena Breast Care Network
The Athena Breast Health Network (Athena) is a unique collaboration among the five University of California (UC) medical/cancer centers (UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC San Diego and UCSF), the Graduate School of Public Health at UC Berkeley, and many other public and private partners. The Network takes a transdisciplinary approach by design, and its participants work together across fields including: epidemiology, genetics, molecular biology, psychology and social and behavioral sciences, primary care, radiology, pathology, oncology, surgery and health services research. Also included are clinical staff and genetic counselors, health information technology professionals, health care administrators, and importantly, patient advocates.

Athena is integrating clinical care and research in order to revolutionize the delivery of breast care. By standardizing the collection of data from both patients and physicians, integrating molecular profiling at the time of breast cancer diagnosis, and creating an unparalleled biospecimen repository, Athena will enable personalized care informed by science and will fuel continuous improvement in treatment options and outcomes.

Key components of Athena include:

  • Identifying women at high risk for breast cancer who will be offered prevention services and decision support
  • A comprehensive informatics strategy that includes tools to collect, analyze, and distribute clinical and research data in real time
  • Web-based decision tools for patients and providers to translate clinical evidence into actionable treatment options – allowing physicians to tailor treatment to biology, patient preference and clinical performance
  • A data and biospecimen repository to support large-scale, longitudinal studies that will enable tailored prevention and treatment strategies

Underpinning these goals is a culture that supports continuous improvement, as well as a commitment by Athena clinicians and researchers across California to share data. With this unique collaboration, Athena aims to change the options for patients today and create a better future for all women at risk of developing breast cancer.

UC disclaimer
The information stated above was prepared by Sanford Health and reflects solely the opinion of the health system. Nothing in this statement shall be construed to imply any support or endorsement of Sanford, or any of its products, by The Regents of the University of California, its officers, agents and employees.

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UCSF at Dreamforce 2013: How technology is revolutionizing health

UCSF physicians and scientists will speak at event Nov. 20.

DreamforcePerforming surgery with the help of Google Glass. Using apps and sensors to improve heart health. Relying on nanotechnology to treat age-related macular degeneration. Playing video games to sharpen cognition.

UC San Francisco physicians and scientists will explore and explain these cutting-edge approaches on Wednesday, Nov. 20, at Dreamforce 2013’s “Unusual Thinkers” track, which is open to the public with free registration. This year’s theme is how technology is revolutionizing research and the delivery of health care.

Dreamforce, which runs Nov. 18 to 21 at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, is being offered for the 11th consecutive year by Salesforce.com. The company’s founder, Marc Benioff, and his wife, Lynne, donated $100 million to help build a new children’s hospital at UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay.

The track kicks off with introductions by UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, M.D., M.P.H., and Mark Laret, chief executive officer of UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, followed by four individual sessions. It concludes with a panel discussion moderated Michael Blum, M.D., FACC, associate vice chancellor for informatics at UCSF and head of the UCSF Center for Digital Health Innovation. Titled “Mobility and Health Care: Promise and Reality,” the panel includes UCSF’s Jeffrey Olgin, M.D., Julie Murchinson of Health Evolution Partners, and David Kim, M.D., of MEDgle.

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‘Ender’s Game’ movie features surgical robot built at UC Santa Cruz

Raven II is used to simulate brain surgery on one of the main characters.

The character Bonzo Madrid undergoes robotic surgery in a scene from "Ender's Game." (Image courtesy of Summit Entertainment)

The character Bonzo Madrid undergoes robotic surgery in a scene from "Ender's Game." (Image courtesy of Summit Entertainment)

The Raven II surgical robot developed in Jacob Rosen’s Bionics Lab at UC Santa Cruz makes a cameo appearance in the new movie “Ender’s Game,” which opens today (Nov. 1) in theaters across the country.

“Ender’s Game,” starring Harrison Ford and Asa Butterfield and directed by Gavin Hood, is based on the 1980s science-fiction novel by Orson Scott Card. In a scene around the movie’s 58-minute mark, the Raven II is used to simulate brain surgery on one of the main characters, Bonzo Madrid, played by actor Moisés Arias. The scene, which deviates from the book’s plot, includes most of the movie’s main characters.

Rosen, a professor of computer engineering at UCSC’s Baskin School of Engineering, helped develop the first Raven surgical robot and worked on the next-generation Raven II in collaboration with researchers at the University of Washington. With funding from the National Science Foundation, a set of identical Raven II systems were designed and built at UC Santa Cruz, with electronics designed by the UW team. The robotic surgery systems are now being used at about a dozen research universities across the country.

The Raven II used in the movie was provided and operated by UW researchers. UW graduate student Hawkeye King, who operated the robot from off set during filming, told NBC News that “despite filming from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., it [got] less than 12 seconds on screen.”

The Raven robots are not yet used in clinics for surgery, although that is the eventual goal. Researchers are mainly using them to design and test new hardware and software for telesurgery procedures. The robots are designed to have state-of-the-art motion control and to fit in a standard operating room.

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Google Glass delivers new insight during surgery

UCSF surgeon is first to receive clearance for use of the tech device in the operating room.

UC San Francisco cardiothoracic surgeon Pierre Theodore, M.D., goes into the operating room with one main goal: getting his patient in and out of surgery safely and efficiently.

Technology has offered vast improvements to that process and a new technology gadget, the Google Glass, is taking that a giant step further.

Google Glass, a 1.8-ounce computer configured like a pair of eyeglasses, already is gaining popularity in the medical world as a teaching tool, recording surgeries from the surgeon’s point of view and live-streaming that view to colleagues or students. But Theodore has found another application for Google Glass that he believes could transform the way doctors perform surgery.

Theodore pre-loads CT and X-ray images needed for a procedure, and calls them up in his Google Glass to compare a medical scan with the actual surgical site.

“Often one will remove a tumor that may be deeply hidden inside an organ – the liver, the lung – for example,” said Theodore, who’s also an associate professor in the UCSF School of Medicine. “To be able to have those X-rays directly in your field without having to leave the operating room or to log on to another system elsewhere, or to turn yourself away from the patient in order to divert your attention, is very helpful in terms of maintaining your attention where it should be, which is on the patient 100 percent of the time.”

Theodore is the first surgeon to receive clearance for the use of the tech device as an auxiliary surgical tool in the operating room, by a local Institutional Review Board (IRB), an independent ethical review board designated to approve, monitor and review biomedical research involving human subjects. He was introduced to the idea by Nate Gross, M.D., co-founder and medical director of Rock Health, a San Francisco-based startup company focused on the future of digital health.

While wearing the Google Glass, data on the “screen” appears in the wearer’s peripheral vision, Gross explained.

“If my vision is a tic-tac-toe board, it would take one of those upper corners,” he said. “It feels like looking in the rearview mirror of your car. That rear view is always there when I need it, but it’s not there when I don’t.”

UCSF and health care providers across the U.S. are increasingly introducing new technology to transform health. UCSF launched the Center for Digital Health Innovation last year in part to validate the functionality and accuracy of new digital health devices, diagnostics, mobile health applications and sensor-based technologies and to evaluate whether they bring value and improve outcomes for patients in the ever-evolving health care delivery system.

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LaunchPad focuses on catalyzing early-stage research

UCSF project highlights translational research.

UC San Francisco's Ruben Rathnasingham leads the team responsible for LaunchPad.

UC San Francisco's Ruben Rathnasingham leads the team responsible for LaunchPad.

It takes an average of 17 years for new scientific discoveries to make their way into day-to-day clinical practice.

UC San Francisco is working to accelerate this process of translating findings from the bench to the bedside and developing tools and services to make that happen. One of those resources is LaunchPad, a new online resource designed to highlight the experiences and accomplishments of UCSF’s translational researchers, and to support them in their efforts to develop beneficial medical products. The site features videos of investigators sharing their experiences working through five keys to successful translational research – unmet needs, target product profile, collaboration, development plan and organizational support.

Find out more about LaunchPad:

-Visit LaunchPad website
-Read Q&A with LaunchPad’s Ruben Rathnasingham
-Team develops targeted therapies for pain and inflammation
-New drug-delivery system will improve lives of patients with chronic eye diseases
-Researchers develop stem cell therapies for acute lung injury
-UCSF researchers develop novel methods to observe disease processes

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Medical education team wins worldwide design challenge

UCSF team a winner in OpenIDEO/Mayo Clinic Challenge.

Emma Kahn, a longtime volunteer at UC San Francisco Medical Center, brightens the day of patient Robert Watson. (Photo by Susan Merrell, UCSF)

Emma Kahn, a longtime volunteer at UC San Francisco Medical Center, brightens the day of patient Robert Watson.

“How might we all maintain well-being and thrive as we age?”

This question was posed in a worldwide OpenIDEO/Mayo Clinic Challenge that produced 133 concepts and eventually six winners, including a team from UC San Francisco.

UCSF’s team ranked in the top three in terms of popularity and number of views to its proposal.

“Nine medical education staff decided to take on the challenge and over the course of two months they participated in a worldwide community who were inspiring, ideating, prototyping and refining solutions to the challenge,” said Kevin Souza, M.S., associate dean for medical education at UCSF. “Eventually the team coalesced around the solution titled ‘More than just a doctor’s visit, a bridge to wellness,’ which proposes a different approach to the learner-patient health care visit.”

The nine members of the UCSF group, all from the medical education staff in the School of Medicine, envisioned reshaping a doctor’s visit by creating a wellness team. Consisting of medical students and senior volunteers, the team members would serve as coaches for aging community members in inpatient settings, where they could talk about everything from prevention and nutrition to depression and other mental or emotional issues.

“My overall goal is to empower the staff to look at the system around them,” Souza said. “For example, if you’re at the front desk at the Student Affairs Center, how could it be better? We started training our staff in these skills, and I started looking for ways to practice them. This challenge came up and it was health-related, which fit beautifully with our focus.”

Souza invited his entire staff to participate if they wished. The nine members of the final team brought diverse skills and backgrounds. Their work is also directly tied into the UCSF Bridges Curriculum now being designed, which will allow medical students to learn systems improvement skills and work on quality improvement projects.

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Optimism meets pessimism at The Atlantic Meets the Pacific forum

Science, health, technology thought leaders gather at UC San Diego for event.

(From left) Nicholas Spitzer of UC San Diego, Kris Framm of GlaxoSmithKline and Ralph Greenspan of UC San Diego (photo by Erik Jepsen, UC San Diego)

(From left) Nicholas Spitzer of UC San Diego, Kris Framm of GlaxoSmithKline and Ralph Greenspan of UC San Diego

If there’s one thing the science, health and technology thought leaders at last week’s The Atlantic Meets the Pacific forum can agree on, it’s this: “Things are going to break a lot more before they get better.”

That sentiment, put into words by Smart Patients CEO and former Google Chief Health Strategist Roni Zeiger, was echoed again and again at the forum by some of the greatest minds from the worlds of academic research, small and big business, clinical medicine and public policy who were interviewed by journalists from The Atlantic magazine.

The third annual forum, which was held Oct. 2 to 4, is a collaboration between The Atlantic and the University of California, San Diego, and follows in the tradition of The Atlantic’s prestigious Aspen Ideas Festival and the Washington Ideas Forum.

This year’s panelists – among them several well known and up-and-coming professors and physicians from UC San Diego – were all in agreement that the world’s aging population, the advent of ‘smart’ devices and the resulting avalanche of scientific and medical data are creating both overwhelming opportunity and overwhelming challenges for healthcare, and in particular cancer care. It’s not yet clear, however, how quickly the coming revolution will take place, or who will pay for it.

Granted, those in attendance at the forum weren’t feeling especially optimistic given that the event coincided with a Congressional standoff over the nation’s Affordable Care Act, which had by then led to a government shutdown. In an interview with The Atlantic’s Washington Editor at Large Steve Clemons, alternative health advocate Deepak Chopra put the crisis in very Deepak Chopra-like terms: “The biofield of Washington, D.C., right now is certainly not coherent.”

Biofields, explained Chopra, are the magnetic fields transmitted by every cell in our bodies, and he claims they can be increasingly measured in scientific ways.

“[You can] correlate states of consciousness with states of biology using mathematical algorithms and correlate that with crime, with hospital admissions, with traffic accidents, with social unrest, with quality of leadership,” he said. “If you all hear the expression, ‘I went into this room, and it was very stressful, you could cut it with a knife, it was so tense,’ or, “I went into this holy temple or this shrine and I felt at peace’ – now we can biologically measure that.”

It’s a theory that no doubt sounds strange to researchers and clinicians used to measuring vital signs like heart rate and blood pressure, not vital signs pertaining to consciousness. But Big Data is forcing Big Medicine to change in big ways, and smart, wireless devices, combined with powerful algorithms, are now able to measure and analyze data that weren’t previously quantifiable.

Take cancer research. Several of The Atlantic Meets the Pacific sessions addressed advances in clinical treatments for cancer, as well as the elements that need to cohere for the many forms of cancer to be cured or, as Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute CEO Kristiina Vuori put it, “to work toward a solution where cancer might be seen as a chronic disease you can live with.”

An oft-repeated observation at the forum related to the way that the so-called biological ‘-omics’ – genomics, proteomics and metabiomics – are changing the way cancer drugs are developed.

“The whole field of oncology is going through a transition similar to what the Internet went through in the ’90s,” remarked Dr. Scott Lippman, director of the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. “We’re looking now at redefining cancer, and the classic trial designs that we all grew up with don’t really apply now. This is not a vision we have that in 10 to 20 years we’ll get there. It’s happening now. If we identify certain genetic factors in a patient and correlate that with certain drug treatments, we’re seeing dramatic responses.”

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