Last night was the first meeting of the Western Connecticut Health Network (WCHN) Biomedical Innovation and Research Council, of which I am privileged to be a member. The meeting was held at the recently christened Rudy L. Ruggles Biomedical Research Institute in Danbury, CT. The Institute aims to advance the health of our community by performing innovative translational research. The idea behind translational research is to perform evidence-based or disease-targeted research and translate results to patient care. It is often called “benchside to bedside”. Some have asked how a community hospital can conduct research at the level of the giant research centers at major universities. The answer is if you have the vision, hire the right people, and create the right environment, there is no reason why a smaller research center cannot accomplish amazing things. The Institute has a unique 17,000 square feet open space laboratory where collaboration is a given. An advantage is the hospital is down the street. Including patients in research studies can be much easier than at vast centers.
The vision of the Innovation and Research Council is to lead the development of novel and practical solutions to enhance the quality, safety, efficiency, and value of health care. We hope to inspire a rewarding culture of innovation, design and build an infrastructure to develop and test new ideas, develop funding streams to grow innovation and reesearch at WCHN, and to promote the innovative culture among the general public and health professionals.
The Institute is working on a number of things I find quite interesting. The focus is on research investigating mechanisms of cancer development and diseases such as Lyme that concern the immediate community. Lyme disease is spread by blacklegged ticks, causes many symptoms, and can be fatal. A recent CDC study found that cases of Lyme increased more than 80% between 2004 and 2016 — from 19,804 to 36,429. Those are the reported cases. The CDC estimates there are more than 300,000 cases of Lyme infection in the U.S. each year — or 10 times as many as what is reported. One doctor told me Lyme is under-diagnosed 50% of the time and over-diagnosed 50% of the time. The problem is there is no certain diagnostic test. The Pathology Research Group, headed by Dr. Paul Fiedler, is working on a new diagnostic blood test for Lyme disease. This would lead to early detection of the disease and allow for early therapeutic intervention to prevent progression of the disease.
The Laboratory for Translational Medicine, headed by Dr. John Martignetti, is the most recent addition to the Institute. Dr. Martignetti’s efforts are focused on biomarker discovery and validation of novel therapeutics. In collaboration with Mount Sinai Health System, the Institute is creating a state-of-the-art precision medicine program linking gynecologic/oncology patient clinical care and genomic information. The result is expected to be improved treatment and surveillance.
Other projects at the Institute include research on metabolic diseases, detection of early colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and multiple myeloma. The potential patient benefits from this research include the development of new drugs and less toxic therapies targeting cancer cells while sparing healthy tissue, more effective personalized drugs based on an individuals’ unique proteomic and genomic signature, and new diagnostic techniques using protein biomarkers to identify people who are at risk or who are likely to resist certain treatment regimens. All of this brings us closer to personalized medicine instead of the one-size-fits-all which has been the norm in cancer treatment.