From the irises in our eyes to the shape of our ears to our fingerprints, no two humans on earth—even “identical” twins—are alike. So when our bodies become sick or injured, applying a one-size-fits-all, trial-and-error treatment for whatever ails us may be a good solution for a majority of patients, but it is not the best for all of them.
Enter personalized medicine. This revolutionary medical model is pushing the boundaries of traditional practice by creating new, precise treatments; reducing the need for expensive tests; and flagging risk factors that enable earlier diagnoses for everything from cancer to asthma to Alzheimer’s. Researchers in Arizona are at the forefront of this innovation, which combines genetic research, molecular profiling, nanotechnology, and other cutting-edge medical practices.
Across the state’s private sector and public universities, work is being done on a number of fronts to diagnose and treat cancer patients with methods tailored to their individual needs in the most effective way. At the University of Arizona’s (UA) Bio5 Institute, biotech engineers have created a tiny “pillbox” that floats through the bloodstream, and—on cue—delivers medicine to cancerous cells, avoiding healthy ones. Researchers at startup GT Medical Technologies Inc. of Tempe developed a tiny—smaller than a square inch—collagen “tile” that can deliver radiation to tumor cells that were missed by surgery. Celgene’s Abraxane is made in Arizona. The injectable drug treats pancreatic, breast, and certain types of lung cancers.
Just as important, cancer diagnostic tools are the subject of much research in Arizona. Arizona State University is home to the Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics, which uses a plasmid repository to develop early warnings for those at risk of major illnesses. Tucson-based tumor profiling company HTG Molecular Diagnostics’ technology allows the genetic profiling of a tumor using a much smaller sample of the tumor than is required by traditional technology. Roche Tissue Diagnostics (formerly Ventana Medical Systems, founded by UA pathologist Dr. Thomas Grogan) provides more than 250 cancer tests through state-of-the-art automated testing. In addition to diagnostics, the company works with pharmaceutical companies to find relevant therapies for the patients it’s diagnosed. Caris Life Sciences’s services include molecular profiling for genetics and pathology for early detection of cancer and other complex diseases. This global company’s Life Sciences primary lab and the Caris Research Institute are located in Phoenix, which it calls “the ideal location for a continuous service laboratory because of the predictable weather patterns and limited exposure to extreme weather events and natural disasters.”
Arizona has also become ground zero for Alzheimer’s research. This important study is a collaborative effort of public and private institutions working together to decode the genetic makeup of patients, delay the onset, treat the symptoms, and save lives. The Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium member institutions include Arizona State University, Barrow Neurological Institute, Mayo Clinic Arizona, Banner Sun Health Research Institute, the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), the University of Arizona, and Banner Alzheimer’s Institute. The Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital is home to cutting-edge imaging technology and clinical and research partnerships with world-class neurologists and neurosurgeons. Banner Sun Health Research Institute hosts the National Institutes of Health-designated Arizona Alzheimer’s Disease Center in the retirement community of Sun City. The consortium, through more than 5,000 publications and 1,000 research grants, has proposed new Alzheimer’s treatments, supported research through data-sharing and collaboration, and facilitated $1.5 billion in investments in Alzheimer’s research.
“It has been said often in the [Arizona State House] Health Committee, the brain that will cure Alzheimer’s will be an Arizona brain,” said Arizona State Representative Heather Carter.
Another stellar example of the importance of public-private collaboration in advancing personalized medicine is Phoenix-based TGen, a nonprofit research institute that began in 2002 with $100 million from Arizona public- and private-sector investors. TGen researchers work on employing genetic discoveries to develop smarter diagnostics and targeted therapies. Today, the TGen biomedical campus is an integral piece of a statewide bioscience initiative with faculty who contribute to biomedical discoveries and the quality of health care for Arizona residents.
While clinicians and researchers in Arizona continue to achieve medical breakthroughs in personalized medicine, information technology professionals at many of these same institutions are advancing telemedicine—the delivery of health care through inexpensive portable devices that allow patients to conduct their own lab tests and download results.
The Mayo Clinic first rolled out its stroke telemedicine program in Arizona in 2007. Neurologists trained in blood vessel conditions, along with neurosurgeons and neuroradiologists, work as a team with emergency medicine doctors and staff at remote sites to treat stroke patients. The stroke telemedicine program is now on Mayo campuses in Florida and Minnesota and treats over 1,500 patients annually at 28 remote hospital sites. Banner Health Systems, called a “trendsetter with a robust history employing this technology” by HealthLeaders, connects with patients and bedside care teams across the state to monitor best practices and measure clinical outcomes.
Medical records, too, can be accessed with ease, thanks to telemedicine. GlobalMed, based in Scottsdale, provides access anywhere to patient data and medical images. Their hardware, software, and cloud solutions are used in 55 countries.
Education in telemedicine, which started as a pilot program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in 1995, is now part of the curriculum that provides services, distance learning, informatics training, and telemedicine technology assessment capabilities to cities and towns across the state. Recognized as one of the premier programs at the college, it’s received numerous awards at the national level for its research and innovations. UA is also the home of the Southwest Telehealth Resource Center, which works with organizations in five states to coordinate technology and other resources for telemedicine programs. ASU’s Project HoneyBee, Northern Arizona University’s Center for Bioengineering Innovation, and NAU’s Health Research Institute are also working on developments in telemedicine.
If the recent announcement by Mesa startup Myndshft is any indication of the future of telemedicine, expect phenomenal growth. Two Arizona residents founded the company, which specializes in blockchain and artificial intelligence in health care, in 2015. It expects to grow its staff to 100 by the end of 2019.
The concentration of biotech innovators in Arizona means the state is well ahead of the game in both personalized medicine and telemedicine. Arizona medical experts, researchers, entrepreneurs, designers, and manufacturers all are key players in developing new devices and facilitating these advancements to improve health care outcomes for those not just in the state but also around the world.
Learn more at azcommerce.com.