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Tomorrow’s Cures, Today’s Care

Photo by Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications
Photo by Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

UMKC, hospitals propose world-class research institute

The University of Missouri-Kansas City is poised to become a partner in a world-class medical research institute that could transform both the state of medical care, and the economy, of our region.

The concept for a proposed Jackson County institute for translational medicine — a collaboration among UMKC, Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, Saint Luke’s Health System and the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute —was introduced Aug. 8 at an announcement event  that included  media and leaders from Kansas City’s healthcare, research, academic and business communities.

Translational research, often called “from bench-to-bedside” research, means taking basic scientific discoveries and converting them into treatments and cures for disease. The Jackson County institute would be financed through a proposed half-cent sales tax in Jackson County that would raise an estimated $40 million a year to attract world-class researchers, and to provide them with the equipment, facilities and support staff necessary to develop discoveries, treatments and cures. The tax, which would be placed on the ballot for voters Nov. 5, would sunset in 20 years.

The Jackson County institute would be located on Hospital Hill, near UMKC’s Schools of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing and Health Studies and Pharmacy. UMKC’s translational research involves those schools as well as the Schools of Computing and Engineering, Biological Sciences, and social sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“UMKC is here becoming what we all dreamed for her: a world-class urban university,” said Greg Graves, chairman of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce board and Burns & McDonnell chief executive officer, one of the speakers at the event. “It is worth our time, it is worth our investment.”

Graves said the concept for the institute is “a chance for greatness for our city.”

In health sciences, UMKC has developed widely recognized strengths in areas such as:

  • Bone biology and mineralized tissue
  • Vision research
  • Pharmacology and drug delivery
  • Injury treatment and prevention
  • Women’s and children’s health
  • Health outcomes

“We can make this region one of just a handful of communities in the U.S. – and really, the world – where a critical mass of talent, resources and opportunity establishes us as a contender for attracting the best and brightest clinicians, scientists and entrepreneurs in the medical field,” said UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton, one of the speakers at the announcement event. “At UMKC, we have a particular focus on illnesses that affect children and the elderly, and that often have a disproportionate effect on minority populations. These chronic illnesses take lives, cause human suffering and are extremely expensive to treat. They include heart disease, asthma, diabetes, glaucoma, osteoporosis, obesity and addiction.

“We are already racing against time to find new treatments for these afflictions. With this institute, those treatments will arrive even faster, and they will arrive first right here in this community.”

The UMKC Center of Excellence in Dental and Musculoskeletal Tissues is a world leader in the study of osteoporosis and other aging-related diseases involving breakdown of tissues. UMKC’s research in pharmacology and drug delivery is making significant contributions to the evolving science of personalized medicine, custom-designing treatments to each patient’s unique situation, all the way down to the genetic level. UMKC health outcomes researchers are global experts in bioinformatics, the combination of computer science and medical science that helps pinpoint the most effective treatments for specific illnesses by analyzing the outcomes of thousands of case histories.

“The outcomes and translational research that is done in cardiology in Kansas City is widely recognized as amongst the best in the world,” said cardiologist John Spertus, who spoke at the event. He is the Lauer/Missouri Endowed Chair and Professor of Medicine at UMKC, where he serves as Clinical Director of Outcomes Research at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute. “With funding from this initiative, we will be able to leverage our expertise in many other disciplines, including pediatrics, cancer, neurology and stroke, orthopedic surgery, ophthalmology, bone disease and more. If the community invests in translational and outcomes research, it will enhance Kansas City’s ability to recruit the best and brightest talents in the country and around the world, and serve as catalyst for the creation of novel, collaborative networks throughout our community to improve the care we deliver.”

At the announcement event, civic and scientific leaders stressed that the funds raised by the proposed tax would be controlled solely by the university and the two hospitals, not politicians. By law, the funds raised for research could not be diverted for any other purpose, and the results of independent fiscal and performance audits of the institute would be made public.

Ten percent of the tax funds would be used for research-related economic development initiatives designated by the institute’s board, such as helping prepare Jackson County residents for health care and research jobs. The institute’s board of directors will be made up of chief executives of Children’s Mercy, Saint Luke’s, UMKC, the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute and one other noted individual selected by the chief executive of Children’s Mercy.

Growing Kansas City’s medical research, from discovery to cure, is one of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s Big 5 Goals. Business, medical, research and academic leaders have been working for more than two years toward the concept of the Jackson County institute.

The institute would attract new support businesses and create new jobs, spending and tax revenues. The institute itself is expected to create 196 new jobs and more than $30 million in economic output in its first year of operation. The institute’s development of new medications, treatments and cures — especially in the fields of pediatric and geriatric medicine — would create an estimated $600 million in economic benefits for Jackson County in the first decade of operation.

And, at UMKC, the institute would build on the growth of the Hospital Hill Campus, where more than 2,900 students attend the Schools of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing and Health Studies, and Pharmacy. A $30.33 million apartment project — the campus’ first student housing — is expected to be finished before the fall semester of 2014.

The housing would give UMKC students more options to be closer to classes and become a part of the community. Kansas City leaders have stated that student housing near the Hospital Hill campus would help redevelop surrounding neighborhoods.

 


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