Integrated Disease Programs: Neuromedicine
Leader: Webster Pilcher, M.D., Ph.D.
With neuromedicine touching clinical care and research in at least 19 departments at the Medical Center, and six more on River Campus, the field is a clear choice for emphasis and growth in the new strategic plan.
On a national scale, diseases of the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nervous system come at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars annually, in addition to the pain and suffering endured by patients and their families. Brain damage from stroke is the leading long-term cause of disability in the nation and the third-leading cause of death; meanwhile, the number of people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease is skyrocketing and is expected to top 16 million by mid-century. At the Medical Center, research into these and other brain diseases currently accounts for 29 percent – nearly one-third – of all research dollars. Both Neurology and Neurosurgery rank among the top 10 nationally in their disciplines in terms of research funding from the National Institutes of Health. On the clinical side, neuromedicine accounted for 18 percent of Strong Memorial Hospital’s operating margin in 2007.
Regionally, Strong Memorial Hospital already boasts a powerhouse in the area of neuromedicine and is the go-to area hospital for neurological and neurosurgical care. Currently, URMC neuromedicine faculty help lead neurological and neurosurgical care at Rochester’s major hospitals and also staff nearly one dozen outreach clinics. The reputation of our neuromedicine program extends nationally and even internationally: People from around the world seek out Rochester for the treatment of conditions like muscular dystrophy, Huntington’s disease, and certain muscular disorders.
This reputation rests in part on a number of firsts and foremosts in patient care and research. In a program held up by the NIH as a model for international cooperation, Rochester neurologists have pioneered the design and implementation of large, multi-site clinical trials to evaluate new medications and other treatments for several neurological diseases, including Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases. The Medical Center is home to one of the original three Muscular Dystrophy Cooperative Research Centers designated by the NIH and the Muscular Dystrophy Association. During the past 20 years, our physicians and patients have taken part in virtually every large study of a potential Alzheimer’s medication; more people have taken part in Alzheimer’s studies at Rochester than at any other site in the nation. Research currently underway at the University is focusing on the vascular roots of the disease and has fundamentally changed our view of Alzheimer's disease, opening doors to potential new treatments.
While such centers signal past and current successes, basic research underway today bodes amazing progress for future patient care. One investigator has discovered a whole new way that a genetic mistake can harm the body, opening up a new frontier against muscular dystrophy and other diseases. Another physician has made tremendous progress against a group of fatal diseases that kill children by their teen years, by developing an extraordinary deftness at handling and manipulating stem cells. Their colleagues are showing how brain cells that have been long overlooked by clinicians and researchers are central to disease processes like epilepsy, stroke, and spinal cord damage. Others have discovered that a medication now used to treat sepsis holds promise for stroke survivors, and clinical trials are now underway.
Diseases of the brain and nervous system represent a looming health challenge for our nation, and the strategic plan will enable the Medical Center to build on its already strong position as a world leader in their prevention and treatment. A Neuromedicine Institute will be created. New facilities and programs will include an ICU and inpatient beds specializing in neuromedicine, expanded outpatient programs in Rochester, and regional programs utilizing telemedicine technology. Research centers will be established and expanded in areas of cell and molecular neurobiology and in stem cell biology, and existing research programs throughout the institution will be strengthened by new faculty recruitments.
Scientists in these areas will work closely with clinicians to use the discoveries to improve the lives of patients as quickly as possible. The University of Rochester Medical Center and its Neuromedicine Institute, with its nationally recognized clinical programs and its leadership in therapeutic discovery, are poised to translate these neurobiological discoveries into better health for all.
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