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MultiCare expands Research Institute, adds trials

Posted on May. 19, 2011 ( comments)

Doctors and health care providers at MultiCare Health System have offered clinical trials to their patients for a quarter century in discrete research projects.

But a few years ago, MultiCare leaders decided they wanted the health system to play an increasing role in advancing medicine. In 2010, they opened the MultiCare Research Institute, which collected researchers from all over MultiCare, and began expanding the amount of research conducted at MultiCare facilities.

Since then, the Institute added research staff and doubled the number of clinical trials offered to patients.

Richard Shine, Program Director of the MultiCare Research Institute in Tacoma, recently discussed the new program:

What is the MultiCare Research Institute?

The Institute is the umbrella organization for research done by MultiCare providers, which includes neurologists, neurosurgeons, endocrinologists, cardiologists, neurointerventional radiologists and many, many others.

Most of the studies we participate in are industry-sponsored drug and device trials where we work with drug and pharmaceutical companies. We also participate in federally funded studies.

Why is clinical research important to patients and to MultiCare?

Having clinical trials available to our patients provides them access to treatment that wouldn’t otherwise be available. We also feel that having research available adds some prestige to the institution. As a patient, you would want to be treated at an institution where you know research is being conducted and scientific advancements are taking place - where it’s possible you will get something more than the usual care. Our physicians are on the cutting edge of medicine and are interested in providing the best care to their patients.

What kind of trials are you working on?

We really have some exciting trials. We have a stem cell trial that Dr. John Huddlestone is working on for patients with Multiple Sclerosis. We have this neurosurgery trial that’s our first local investigator-initiated clinical trial. We have approval from the Food and Drug Administration. It’s a neurosurgery trial using a medicine given orally before the surgery. The medicine is concentrated in the brain tumor and it fluoresces under ultraviolet light. So in the surgery they’ll turn on this ultraviolet light and the tumor will glow. It’s a bright pink. It enables the neurosurgeon to remove more tumor tissue and leave behind more of the normal brain tissue. You know with brain tumors you’re best chance is if you can completely resect the tumor. Our first patient enters the trial in May.

Is participating in a clinical trial dangerous?

We always keep the patient’s best interests at heart. If it’s in the best interest of the patient that they not enroll in a study, we tell them that. If it’s in the best interest of a patient that they come off a trial, we recommend that.

We are always cautious about recommending a trial. As with any procedure, our process includes a lot of information about what’s going to happen and a discussion about possible risks.

How did MultiCare get into research?

In 1983, MultiCare received a grant from the National Cancer Institute to participate in the Community Clinical Oncology Program, which is a federal grant to support cancer research in our community. The CCOP helps get cancer patients on trials all over Pierce County so we have coordinators at different oncology practices. We’re now in our 28th year of funding, and we’ve been one of the more successful and long lasting CCOPs in the US.

How did MultiCare go from one federal grant to dozens of clinical trials?

In 2003, MultiCare wanted to get more involved with research. We started what we called the Research Service. There were three of us. Since then, we’ve had some exciting trials going on that were very successful. A few years ago, the hospital administrators came to us and said, “We would like you to think about expanding your research through the formation of a research institute.”

What changed when you became the Research Institute?

Throughout 2010, we expanded. We doubled the number of trials we had open to enrollment. We now have more than 100 trials open. We have added seven employees to the institute. And now we are expanding clinical trials out to Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup.

How do the clinical trials work?

Once a patient is accepted into a trial, they are followed by a skilled and experienced coordinator, most of whom are nurses who are trained in those specific disease areas. Our patients typically develop a relationship with their study coordinators and work closely with them. The trials go for a set length and we collect data on the patients and monitor their progress throughout the duration of the trial.

People may read this and want to know how to get into a trial. What would you tell them?

We have a website where many of our trials are listed. You can also talk to your health care provider.

Has research been successful financially?

We’ve been financially solvent every year. We have supported ourselves, which can be difficult to do because some of the federally funded studies we take are not funded well enough to support the research. We had this trial for patients who had strokes or Transient ischemic attacks because of narrowing of their arteries. It paid us about half of what we needed to do the work, but it was a good study. We thought “It’s going to advance science, and it’s going to help our patients so we’ll do it anyway.”

Tell me a little about yourself. How long have you been with MultiCare?

I came to MultiCare as a pharmacist 34 years ago. So I’ve worked in various areas of the hospital as a pharmacist until 2003 when I took this job. For 14 years, I chaired our Institutional Review Board, which is responsible for providing oversight to research trials.

What made you take this job?

Sometimes I wonder. I have been here more than 25 years and I had worked in the main pharmacy, the oncology clinic and other areas. It was an opportunity for me to do something different that was exciting and would be beneficial to our patients. It was something that might make a difference. It’s a lot of work and I come in at all hours to help out on the clinical trials or work weekends on paper work. But then I see the patients and see our trials making a difference, and it’s all worth it.

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