Local doctors and scientists are pioneering state-of-the-art technology and health care procedures.
The field of medicine is always transforming.
With ongoing research and the latest technology, there are new techniques being tested, cutting-edge equipment being introduced, trial medicines being prescribed and numerous discoveries that are adapting the landscape of medicine — and it’s happening right in our community.
Medical innovations are taking place at local hospitals and universities in the Greater Akron area, and these projects are saving the lives of patients and changing the way physicians care for them. Whether it’s alleviating pain caused by an incurable disease or easing the healing process, doctors and scientists in our city are hard at work to find better, more precise and more effective treatments for patients.
AkronLife spoke with innovators from Summa Akron City Hospital, Akron Children’s Hospital, Akron General Medical Center, Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) and The University of Akron Goodyear Polymer Center ito learn how their contributions are revolutionizing the future of medicine.
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Dr. Charles Kunos
Summa Akron City Hospital
Summa Akron City Hospital recently became the first community-based hospital to implement Vero SBRT (stereotactic body radiotherapy) technology as its next cancer treatment platform.
Dr. Charles Kunos, a radiation oncologist at Summa, says in the past, this equipment was only used in radiation oncology practices in university-based hospital systems.
“Vero SBRT offers the residents of Greater Akron a more precise, faster radiation therapy for brain and body cancers,” Kunos says.
Radiation courses that once required 35 once-a-day treatments can be completed in five days using the Vero system’s innovative imaging and positioning. Because this is a noninvasive cancer treatment, it doesn’t require the introduction of instruments into the body, and there are minimal side effects.
During treatment, the patient remains stationary while the system rotates. The Vero provides such precise radiation that it can track tumors that move with the patient’s breathing and digestion.
In October, the first Summa patient received this treatment, and Kunos says more patients are being scheduled for this procedure.
“Vero SBRT presents a tangible opportunity for anticancer clinical benefit and less harm to the patient,” he says. “However, (it) may not be indicated for every cancer patient; treatment options of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are carefully considered.”
For more information about Vero SBRT technology, contact Summa’s radiation oncology department at 888-293-5335.
Dr. Mary Toth
Akron Children's Hospital
Juvenile inflammatory arthritis (JIA) is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the joints and sometimes other areas, such as the eyes, in children under the age of 16.
Dr. Mary Toth, director of pediatric rheumatology at Akron Children’s Hospital, says JIA affects about one in 300 children in the United States. Although treatment depends upon the severity of the disease, new pharmaceutical therapies over the last 15 years have greatly improved the function of children with JIA and target the parts of the immune system attacking the body.
“Children with autoimmune diseases, such as JIA, have these conditions for a long time, and the treatments are complex,” Toth says. “I have the opportunity to see these children frequently as together we adjust medications, monitor for side effects to both the medications and the arthritis and help them cope with emotional or physical challenges.”
These new medications are often expensive so Akron Children’s Hospital serves as a site for pediatric rheumatology studies, and Toth works with pharmaceutical companies to enroll patients in pharmaceutical trials.
“ The field of rheumatology is rapidly evolving with new therapies being approved,” she says. “I enjoy being in a field that is making new discoveries and helping children conquer a potentially disabling disease.”
Dr. Mark Hoeprich
Akron General Medical Center
Dr. Mark Hoeprich, a neurosurgeon at Akron General Medical Center, uses deep brain stimulation (DBS) in patients with Parkinson’s disease. This real-time, MRI-guided surgery allows the patient to sleep throughout the procedure and wake when it is completed.
“This relieves significant anxiety related to being awake during surgery,” Hoeprich says. “Additionally, this procedure dramatically cuts down the amount of time required to complete the procedure.”
During this procedure, thin, flexible wire electrodes are inserted through two small holes in the top of the patient’s head and anchored at the surface of the skull, and the patient is revived. Several weeks later, a battery is inserted in the patient’s upper chest wall, and the electrodes are tunneled under the skin and connected to the battery.
“Not unlike how a pacemaker for the heart provides stimulation to control heart rate, the system provides a constant stimulation to the movement circuitry of the brain that is affected by Parkinson’s disease,” Hoeprich says.
Akron General is recruiting candidates for DBS: Parkinson’s patients who initially responded well to their medicine but are now experiencing motor symptoms that can’t be controlled with medications. For details, call Akron General’s Neuroscience Institute at 330-344-3100.
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Gary D. Niehaus, Ph.d.
Crystal Diagnostics Ltd. and Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED)
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, each year an estimated 48 million Americans will become ill from eating contaminated food.
In response to this serious health issue, Gary D. Niehaus, Ph.D., chief scientist at Crystal Diagnostics Ltd., and his colleagues at Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) and Kent State University have invented a technology that combines biological chemicals, called antibodies, and special liquid crystals to identify dangerous food-borne bacteria.
“Last year, 128,000 people were hospitalized, and about 3,000 died from food-borne infection. The associated costs are estimated to be more than $400 million,” Niehaus says. “Thus, food-borne illnesses have major health and economic impact on Americans.”
With administrative and engineering offices in Colorado, Crystal Diagnostics’ Applied Research Laboratories are in NEOMED’s Redizone Incubator and its manufacturing facility is in Kent State’s Centennial Park Incubator.
“As a team, we have created and are marketing a technology that can improve human health worldwide by ensuring that the food we eat is not contaminated with harmful bacteria,” he says.
Within the next two months, Niehaus says Crystal Diagnostics is expecting certification for its kit that detects the Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC) bacteria. The technology is currently being used to confirm the purity of beef butchered for use in the Ohio penal system.
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William J. Landis, Ph.D.
The University of Akron Goodyear Polymer Center
In the future, patients will no longer die while waiting for an organ transplant.
William Landis, Ph.D., head of The University of Akron Polymer Science Department’s Landis Laboratory, uses polymer scaffolds, or models, and tissue engineering to, as he puts it, “make body parts.”
“The future is now, with respect to tissue engineering,” Landis says. “If we want to give a definition to this concept, it’s to fabricate materials in the laboratory to augment, repair or replace any tissues in the body that have been impaired.”
Landis has been working with Dr. Ananth Murthy, director of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Akron Children’s Hospital, to help children with microtia, an underdeveloped exterior ear.
Rather than take the traditional (but risky) approach using the patient’s own rib cartilage to construct a new ear, Landis received permission from the parents of a local microtia patient and used residual cartilage from the boy’s malformed ear lobe. He created a biodegradable polymer scaffold of a human ear, populated it with the child’s cell tissue and grew a new ear on the body of a research mouse.
“We’re doing groundbreaking work,” Landis says. “ … I have a lab that has about 11 people, so it’s a matter of scale, but I think what we do is right at the front of new science.”