Category Archives: Health and Medicine

When the Drug is Alive

Antimicrobial resistance is one of the most pressing global health issues of the 21st Century. In 2016, epidemiologist Steffanie Strathdee was involved in a remarkable case where she and her colleagues revived a hundred year old forgotten cure – bacteriophage therapy – which saved her husband’s life from a deadly superbug infection.

Strathdee and her husband Tom Patterson were vacationing in Egypt when Tom came down with a stomach bug. Steffanie dosed Tom with an antibiotic and expected the discomfort to pass. Instead, his condition turned critical.

Local doctors at an Egyptian clinic, an emergency medevac team and then a German hospital failed to cure him. By the time Tom reached the world-class medical center at UC San Diego, where both he and Steffanie worked, bloodwork revealed why modern medicine was failing: Tom was fighting one of the most dangerous, antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the world.

Frantic, Strathdee combed through research old and new and came across phage theory: the idea that the right virus, aka “the perfect predator,” can kill even the most lethal bacteria. Phage treatment had fallen out of favor almost 100 years ago, after antibiotic use went mainstream. Now, with time running out, she appealed to phage researchers all over the world for help and together they achieved a major medical breakthrough.

Since that experience, UC San Diego faculty have used intravenous phage therapy to successfully treat superbug infections in over a dozen other compassionate use cases, including the first use of a genetically modified phage cocktail. In 2018, the Center for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapeutics (IPATH) was launched at UC San Diego, the first dedicated phage therapy center in North America.

In this presentation, Strathdee shares the details of her family’s story and discusses ethical issues related to treating bacterial infections with viruses, where the drug is ‘alive.’

Watch When the Drug is Alive: Treating Superbug Infections with Bacteriophage Therapy.

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Fighting Cancer with Your Immune System

New findings on the relationship between the immune system and cancer is bringing a new era of treatment for patients and opening up interdisciplinary collaboration for researchers and clinicians.

In this engaging conversation, Ezra Cohen, MD, and Judy Varner, PhD, highlight emerging research and clinical strategies using precision immunotherapy and stem cell techniques. Dr. Cohen shares patient success stories from his work at the Moores Cancer Center while Dr. Varner takes a deep dive into novel therapeutic approaches that stimulate anti-tumor immunity.

Watch A Closer Look at…Precision Immunotherapy to learn more about the next generation of cancer immunotherapies.

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Social Inequities and Suffering Caused by COVID-19

While a Sars CoV-2 vaccine is here providing hope for the year ahead, the pain and devastation caused by the pandemic will persist as new infections currently continue to expand at an ever-increasing rate.

Amidst all this, UC San Diego has established itself as a recognized leader in proactively responding to this disaster. Hear from UC San Diego’s front-line health and medical experts as they discuss disparities in the clinical impact and outcomes of COVID-19, their first-hand experiences and lessons learned in dealing with the disease.

Also, as the economy continues to suffer from the pandemic, hear about scalable and practical solutions for returning to work in a safe environment.

Watch A Deep Look Into: Social Inequities and Suffering Caused by COVID-19 – Reports from the Front Lines.

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WHAT’S NEXT: COVID-19

The number of people infected by the coronavirus continues to grow every day as does the number of deaths. We have learned a great deal about the virus, treatments and ways to slow the spread since the outbreak began.

UCSF doctors and scientists have been on the front lines of treatment and research since the beginning. This series takes you inside their work to learn what we know now about the pandemic, what lies ahead, and the implications of lessons learned on future medical treatments.

Direct from those who live and breathe it every day, find out what’s next in the science and care of COVID-19.

Browse more programs in What’s Next: COVID-19, Science, and the Public Health.

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It’s All About the Patients

Whenever you are designing something new you always have to keep in mind who the end user is. You can make something that works perfectly fine for you, but if it doesn’t work for the people who are going to work with it day in and day out, you have been wasting your time. And their time too.

At California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), our end users are the patients. Everything we do is about them. Starting with our mission statement: to accelerate stem cell treatments to patients with unmet medical needs. Everything we do, every decision we make, has to keep the needs of the patient in mind.

So, when we were planning our recent 2020 Grantee Meeting (with our great friends and co-hosts UC Irvine and UC San Diego) one of the things we wanted to make sure didn’t get lost in the mix was the face and the voice of the patients. Often big conferences like this are heavy on science with presentations from some of the leading researchers in the field. And we obviously wanted to make sure we had that element at the Grantee meeting. But we also wanted to make sure that the patient experience was front and center.

And we did just that. But more on that in a minute. First, let’s talk about why the voice of the patient is important.

Some years ago, Dr. David Higgins, a CIRM Board member and patient advocate for Parkinson’s Disease (PD), said that when researchers are talking about finding treatments for PD they often focus on the dyskinesia, the trembling and shaking and muscle problems. However, he said if you actually asked people with PD you’d find they were more concerned with other aspects of the disease, the insomnia, anxiety and depression among other things. The key is you have to ask.

So, we asked some of our patient advocates if they would be willing to be part of the Grantee Meeting. All of them, without hesitation, said yes. They included Frances Saldana, a mother who lost three of her children to Huntington’s disease; Kristin MacDonald, who lost her sight to a rare disorder but regained some vision thanks to a stem cell therapy and is hoping the same therapy will help restore some more; Pawash Priyank, whose son Ronnie was born with a fatal immune disorder but who, thanks to a stem cell/gene therapy treatment, is now healthy and leading a normal life.

Because of the pandemic everything was virtual, but it was no less compelling for that. We interviewed each of the patients or patient advocates beforehand and those videos kicked off each session. Hearing, and seeing, the patients and patient advocates tell their stories set the scene for what followed. It meant that the research the scientists talked about took on added significance. We now had faces and names to highlight the importance of the work the scientists were doing. We had human stories. And that gave a sense of urgency to the work the researchers were doing.

But that wasn’t all. After all the video presentations each session ended with a “live” panel discussion. And again, the patients and patient advocates were a key part of that. Because when scientists talk about taking their work into a clinical trial they need to know if the way they are setting up the trial is going to work for the patients they’re hoping to recruit. You can have the best scientists, the most promising therapy, but if you don’t design a clinical trial in a way that makes it easy for patients to be part of you won’t be able to recruit or retain the people you need to test the therapy.

Patient voices count. Patient stories count.

But more than anything, hearing and seeing the people we are trying to help reminds us why we do this work. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day business of our jobs, struggling to get an experiment to work, racing to get a grant application in before the deadline. Sometimes we get so caught up in the minutiae of work we lose sight of why we are doing it. Or who we are doing it for.

At CIRM we have a saying; come to work every day as if lives depend on you, because lives depend on you. Listening to the voices of patients, seeing their faces, hearing their stories, reminds us not to waste a moment. Because lives depend on all of us.

Kevin McCormack,
Senior Director Public Communications & Patient Advocate Outreach, CIRM

Browse more programs in Patient Perspective – CIRM Grantee Meeting 2020.

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