Innovation Assures Future of Medicine in Buffalo is Bright

Published October 4, 2018

Experts have looked at the future of health care in Western New York and the prognosis is positive.

“Every single day we have the sharpest minds from all over the world coming to Buffalo for us to evaluate what they are doing and to render our expertise.”
Professor of neurosurgery and chief medical officer of the Jacobs Institute

That was the conclusion presented to more than 160 first- and second-year medical students in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences who attended a panel discussion centered on a report called “The Future of Medicine.”

Studying Forces Impacting Medicine’s Future

Published by the Jacobs Institute (JI), a medical innovation center, the report makes forecasts on 26 powerful forces that will shape the medical field and its specialties in the coming years.

Futurist Josh McHugh, editor of the report, told students its purpose was to look at technological and socioeconomic forces that are most likely to have an impact on health care.

The forces studied included computing technologies, medical technology innovations and global sociodemographic trends.

“We looked at the real world these forces have to move through and ranked stakeholder groups as well,” he said. “We began to get a road map, which at the outset was very grim.”

“There were a lot of downward trends — such as obesity, job loss predicted due to automation, and an overall crisis in physician morale,” McHugh added. “It was a pretty daunting set of realities at the outset.”

WNY Landscape Shifted Greatly in Past Decade

A team of world-class science, technology and health care journalists then took to the road to visit laboratories and conferences to “chase down the people behind the innovations and behind the forces of change that were identified.”

They traveled to locations such as Silicon Valley and San Diego in California; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and London.

“What was surprising to us was that some of the most novel things we learned along the way were right here in Western New York,” McHugh said. “The negative scenarios we started out turned into positives when we took into account the technological innovations that are occurring.”

The JI is strategically sandwiched between UB’s Clinical Translational Research Center and the Gates Vascular Institute and acts as a facilitator between researchers and clinicians, noted L. Nelson Hopkins, MD, SUNY Distinguished Professor of neurosurgery and founder and chief scientific officer of the JI.

”You do not need to leave Buffalo to be an innovator. It all starts here,” he told the students.

Hopkins said the two key things needed to ensure the future of health care in Western New York are infrastructure and people. In contrast to a decade ago, he said Buffalo now has them both.

Panel Includes Jacobs School Faculty

Students heard brief presentations on cutting-edge medical trends from a variety of local experts. The panel members at the Sept. 12 event at the Jacobs School and the topics they discussed were:

Connectivity Key to Promoting Innovation

Cain told the students the key to collaboration and innovation was connectivity.

He cited UB’s interprofessional program as an example, noting its goal is to educate health care students in such a way that they are able to take the knowledge they learn and apply it in clinical care settings.

The interprofessional program involves all five of UB’s health sciences schools, as well as its schools of Law, Social Work and Management.

“We are using that transition from education — with research in the middle — to provide evidence-based data and converting that to improved health care for the community,” Cain said.

The national opioid crisis is an example of a medical issue that is being addressed through connectivity, he noted.

“It is an effort led by the university, the medical school and our community partners,” Cain said. “It is an example of how you bring people together from diverse programs with a common passion and goal to make a difference and connect them together and you have innovation and good things that are occurring.”

Guru noted that surgery robotics is still at a very primitive stage, but that advances are occurring every day.

“We are just beginning to scratch the surface,” he said, telling students “you have the opportunity to walk in from any field — from humanities to design to computer science to anatomy to surgical science — and integrate all of it to create the future of surgery.”

Data Integration an Underutilized Resource

Davies touched upon the idea that data are everywhere, but unfortunately in medicine, data aren’t adequately shared, integrated and analyzed.

“Medicine is far behind what industry has already done. For example, look at Wal-Mart, Amazon and Google,” he said. “Yes, there are roadblocks such as privacy issues and data sharing, but there is a whole lot that can be done.”

“Wal-Mart is able to know exactly what you are interested in buying because it is able to bring in data from its own stores and your social media accounts,” Davies told the students. “It is able to understand what you are looking for, what you are interested in and what your friends are interested in.”

Although corporations such as Wal-Mart are using data to achieve goals of selling goods and making money, physicians are interested in improving the health of the people in the community, Davies said.

“We want to understand who needs treatment and who doesn’t,” he said. “The human mind can only handle so much information. We can perhaps consider six to eight variables at a time. Computers can take into account millions.”

“We can use data to predict things such as who is going to have a stroke, who is going to recover from a stroke and what interventions are going to be successful, so resources can best be allocated,” Davies said.

Buffalo Boasts Cutting-Edge Medical Talent

Adnan Siddiqui, MD, PhD, professor of neurosurgery and chief medical officer of the JI, said the gathering was intended to showcase “the incredible amalgam of expertise within walking distance” from the Jacobs School.

“What we are trying to do at the JI is optimize the opportunities that already exist here. We are not trying to reinvent any unique structure,” he said. “The talent that we have here in Buffalo is good enough to match any other place on the planet.”

Siddiqui noted many national and international health care businesses and organizations are sending people to Buffalo on an ongoing basis.

“Every single day we have the sharpest minds from all over the world coming to Buffalo for us to evaluate what they are doing and to render our expertise,” he said.

“A unique environment has been created here,” Siddiqui added. “There is no other academic institution that has the kind of expertise and exposure — on the vascular side and the surgical side — to everything that is going on in the regulatory community and to everything that is going on in the start-up community.”

Research Opportunities Abound for Students

Siddiqui cautioned the students not to underestimate themselves.

“We are trained to be users of technology and providers of care. It is not a unidirectional process.”

“If you look at all of the wonderful landmark successes that are spread throughout medicine, almost always the greatest ideas start with physicians because they are the ones who are the users and providers and the seekers of opportunity,” Siddiqui said.

Students were encouraged to visit the many research facilities on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and to ask questions and volunteer to participate in studies.

“If you utilize some of the opportunities that abound here in Buffalo, I think the world will be a better place because of it,” Siddiqui said.