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Think Research, Act Collaboratively!

By Jay A. Gershen, D.D.S., Ph.D., president of Northeast Ohio Medical University

Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America


Jay Gershen Mary Woolley

Dr. Jay Gershen and Mary Woolley

Achieving a healthy population and a thriving economy starts with strong collaborations within communities. Ohio is an example of how powerhouse research institutions and health facilities are partnering with industry, philanthropy and government to improve health and drive the economy.

High rates of diabetes and obesity are among Ohio’s most serious health challenges. Ohio ranks 30th among all states in America’s Health Rankings by United Health Foundation. To address these conditions – thereby saving and improving lives as well as lifting the ranking -- university hospitals and other institutions are reaching out to communities to tackle the underlying causes of poor health, and to promote innovative ways to prevent and treat disease. Partnerships have unleashed new approaches to finding solutions to deadly and disabling conditions, and ways to expand economic growth in a region that has historically been a magnet for world-class scientists and cutting-edge research and development.

Scientists at the Center for Neuromodulation at The Ohio State University, working with Battelle Memorial Institute, have created technology that allows individuals suffering from paralysis to regain the use of hands and legs in what is known as limb reanimation. With chips implanted in the brain, patients can transmit their thoughts directly to hand and leg muscles, bypassing the spinal injury and restoring movement to limbs. Funding from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a component of the National Institutes of Health, supported a training program in spinal cord injury research methods at The Ohio State University. Grants from the U.S. Economic Development Administration supported a project at Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) to accelerate pharmaceutical commercialization, enabling local companies and NEOMED researchers to advance their research towards clinical trials. GOJO industries and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are helping to raise awareness of the importance of hand sanitizing and handwashing in health care facilities to reduce hospital acquired infections and the need for antibiotics.

Lucinda Maine, Walter Koroshetz, Sudip Parikh and Thomas F. Zenty III

“Medical Research: The Right Prescription for Economic Growth” summit, June 6, 2016. Panelists (L-R) Lucinda Maine, EVP and CEO of American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP); Walter Koroshetz, Director, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; Sudip Parikh, VP and GM of Health and Analytics, Battelle; and Thomas F. Zenty III, CEO, University Hospitals.

Such partnerships not only provide hope to patients and their families but they contribute to the state’s economic expansion. In 2015, Ohio businesses received nearly $30 million in federal funding for the research and development of technologies with potential commercial applications. The state is also home to more than 2,500 bioscience business establishments and nearly 50,000 bioscience industry jobs. The average annual wage in the bioscience sector was $25,222 higher than the private sector overall.

Public and private sector investments in innovative research are critical to public health and Ohio’s public health research ecosystem as it works in conjunction with research hubs across the country that are addressing health threats such as the Zika virus and opioid abuse. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, Ohio had the second-highest number of drug overdose deaths nationwide in 2014.

Drug addiction is pervasive in the state with heroin claiming the lives of at least 23 residents a week, according to CBS News, and impacting productivity and the local economy. In a five-day span during March of this year, heroin and fentanyl overdoses left at least 12 people dead in the state’s largest county (Cuyahoga). And just a few weeks ago, on a single day, the neighboring Summit County, had at least 23 people who overdosed. One of them died.

A recent University of Cincinnati study found that one in five Ohio residents knows someone who is struggling with heroin. Treatment facilities are struggling to keep up with the demand. Local academic research institutions are taking measures to help reduce addiction rates including Ohio State University College of Medicine which will require medical students to take prescriber education in line with guidelines from the CDC.

Ohio’s biomedical research industry is a national leader in benchside innovation that addresses current and emerging health threats to improve the health of its citizens and the health of the local economy. Federal funding, along with private sector support, is vital to ensuring collaborations in research are sustainable. And on June 6, at a summit hosted by NEOMED and convened by Research!America, which featured leaders from the local and national research community, it became evident that there were three areas of which public-private partnerships with research institutions and health facilities were heavily dependent: industry, philanthropy and government.

Susan Dentzer, Michael Drake, Joe Kanfer and Lucinda Maine

“Medical Research: The Right Prescription for Economic Growth” summit, June 6, 2016. Moderator Susan Dentzer, President and CEO of The Network for Excellence in Health Innovation (NEHI) with Panelists (L-R), Michael Drake, President, The Ohio State University; Joe Kanfer, Chairman and CEO, GOJO Industries; and Lucinda Maine, EVP and CEO of American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy

Titled “Medical Research: The Right Prescription for Economic Growth,” the summit called attention to the impact of biomedical research on wellness and the economy, and pointed out the need for more advocacy for research. Results presented from a state online survey conducted by Zogby Analytics on behalf of Research!America in May 2016 showed that 83% of Ohioans agreed that the Ohio State Legislature should support legislation that will encourage private investments in medical research.

An overwhelming majority of Ohio residents said it is important for the state to be a leader in education (89 percent) and in medical and health research (87 percent). Drug and substance abuse is considered to be the most important health issue facing Ohio residents, according to survey respondents, followed by cancer, obesity, mental health and heart disease, in that order. And, as is evident given that nearly 60 percent of Ohioans report having at least one chronic condition — arthritis, asthma, cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and stroke – chronic diseases are driving increased health care needs and higher medical costs.

During the summit, six Ohio members of the U.S. Congress participated, speaking of the value of medical research to the health of the public and the health of the Ohio economy. Congresswoman Marcia Fudge stressed the importance of research on health disparities in minority communities as studies show that certain health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and infant mortality happen more often among minorities or citizens with lower incomes.

In the Ohio survey, seventy-eight percent of respondents agreed that it was “very” or “somewhat important” for both Ohio’s state government and the federal government to conduct medical or health research to understand and eliminate such differences.

Half of respondents (50 percent) agree that research to improve health is part of the solution to rising health care costs. Next week the Republican National Convention takes place in Ohio (a swing state with 18 electoral votes) and the week after the Democrats will gather in Philadelphia. If Ohioans responses are a bell weather for the nation, it begs a reasonable and timely question: What role will medical research and collaboration play in both conventions and in the general election debates?

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