University of Hawaii Innovation Initiative

Picture of Health

From Honolulu to Hilo, UH's medical and health research changes lives

By Cathy Cruz-George

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Health care of the future requires an integrated approach, and professionals who can work across disciplines will deliver it. Research units within the University of Hawai‘i system are working both in dependently and collaboratively to generate discoveries to improve health outcomes and save lives.

John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM)

Nearly half of all the practicing physicians in Hawai‘i trained at UH Manoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM). The school experienced a 62 percent increase in research awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from 2007 to 2012. JABSOM currently draws about $42 million annually in external research funding.

Recently, the NIH invested $6 million over five years in the medical school’s Center for Cardiovascular Research to study heart disease, Hawai‘i’s No. 1 killer. The institute also granted $12.6 million to the school’s R-MATRIX program, a University-wide effort to turn research findings into measurable health improvements for Hawai‘i’s unique island community.

JABSOM’s Department of Native Hawaiian Health is the only clinical department in an accredited U.S. medical school specifically dedicated to improving the health of an indigenous people, Native Hawaiians.

University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center Director Dr. Michele Carbone says the goal is to give Hawai‘i citizens the same or better treatment options than those available on the Mainland.

University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center Director Dr. Michele Carbone says the goal is to give Hawai‘i citizens the same or better treatment options than those available on the Mainland.

University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center

The University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center will soon have a new home.

The 150,000-square-foot building is scheduled to open in early 2013. The National Cancer Institute recently awarded the UH Manoa unit another five years of recognition and funding, making it one of only 67 research facilities to receive that designation. This guarantees continued funding and gives Hawai‘i patients access to new clinical trials and technologies through the center’s consortium partners at The Queen’s Medical Center, JABSOM, Kuakini Medical Center and Hawai‘i Pacific Health system hospitals.

University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center director Dr. Michele Carbone says the hope is to eliminate the need for Hawai‘i residents to have to travel for treatment. “Our goal is to give Hawai‘i citizens the same or better treatment options of different cancers than those available on the U.S. mainland.”

The center has generated about $80 million in research funding over the past two years. Recent awards include $2.4 million from the NIH for the development of therapies against the Stat3 protein, which has been identified as the main trigger in several types of cancer, including lung, breast and pancreatic, and $1.56 million to research mesothelioma, one of the most dangerous forms of cancer, linked to asbestos and erionite exposure.

UH Hilo's Dianqing Sun is researching new drugs to battle tuberculosis, the second-leading infectious disease in the world.

UH Hilo’s Dianqing Sun is researching new drugs to battle tuberculosis, the second-leading infectious disease in the world.

UH Hilo College of Pharmacy

Groundbreaking work is underway on the Big Island, where the UH Hilo College of Pharmacy welcomed its inaugural class six years ago.

Dianqing Sun is doing tuberculosis research with a grant for $406,257 from the NIH. TB is the second-leading infectious disease in the world.

“Notably, no TB-specific drugs have been discovered since the introduction of Rifampin 40 years ago,” says Sun. “In particular, due to the emergence and evolution of drug-resistant bacteria, there is an urgent need to discover new chemotype TB drugs with novel mechanisms of action and low toxic properties.”

In June, the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation awarded the college $14.3 million to develop a pharmacist-care system designed to save more than $27.1 million in healthcare costs. The project, called “Pharm2Pharm,” is designed to reduce medication-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits by establishing teamwork between hospital and community pharmacists.

“The school is attracting researchers in areas that didn’t exist six years ago, generating ideas that are going to market,” says UH Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney.

Box Jellyfish. Photo by Robert Harwick

Box Jellyfish. Photo by Robert Harwick

Taking Away the Sting

UH Manoa researcher Angel Yanagihara has developed a therapy to treat the burning sting of the Hawaiian box jellyfish and to block the venom of its deadly cousins, such as the Australian box jellyfish. Her patented technology has been licensed by Waterlife Research, which is in the process of doing clinical trials and bringing the product to market. Yanagihara’s work is part of an interdisciplinary effort across the University of Hawai‘i known as RMATRIX, which helps investigators turn health research into health improvements and treatments, especially for Hawai‘i’s multicultural population.

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