Getting to the HEART of Research
In February, we think about hearts not just in honor of Valentine’s Day but because it is American Heart Association Month. This is a great reminder to focus on our personal cardiovascular health. Renown Health helps patients think about their heart health with our world-class providers and cutting-edge treatments through our Cardiovascular Clinical Trials. “Research serves a vital role in the future care of cardiovascular diseases. Being involved in research will help our medical community to further discover new treatment plans in our quest for life preservation and extension,” Dr. Thomas To, Cardiologist and Researcher at Renown Health. For example, let’s talk about atherosclerosis. When our hearts are healthy, they are a strong muscle that pumps our oxygen-rich blood through our coronary arteries. Over time, cholesterol and fats can build up in our arteries. This is a condition known as atherosclerosis. This type of plaque buildup in the arteries can lead to a heart attack or stroke if not properly managed. If you are experiencing chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath or pain in areas of the upper body, these can be the warning signs of a heart attack, and you should call 911. One contributing factor to atherosclerosis is elevated lipoprotein(a) levels and the accumulation of cholesterol in the arteries, which increases the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke. Lipoprotein(a) is tested separately from the standard panel that is completed for cholesterol management, and while your total cholesterol levels may be in a healthy range, lipoprotein(a) levels can still be elevated. "Increasingly we are realizing that lipoprotein(a) levels can be used as an important assessment in more carefully delineating an individual's risk of future cardiovascular events and treatment targets" said Dr. Michael Bloch, Lipid Specialist and Researcher at Renown Institute for Heart and Vascular Health. While it is clear that elevated lipoprotein(a) contributes to atherosclerosis, there are currently no approved medications for reducing cardiovascular disease risk through reducing lipoprotein(a) levels. This is why Renown Health’s Research Office is proud to offer a phase III clinical trial, called the OCEAN(a) study, to our patients with elevated lipoprotein(a) levels as a care option for management of their heart disease risk. Our teams of expert providers and researchers are here to support you on your healthcare journey. “I am thrilled to be able to be part of this study and bring opportunities like this to our patients. The highlight of my day is getting to hear life stories from my patients during our study visits,” Lisa Preciado, Primary Clinical Research Coordinator for the OCEAN(a) study said. Join us in raising awareness around American Heart Month by talking to your provider about lipoprotein(a) at your next appointment. At Renown Health, our goal is to make it easy for patients to access clinical research as a care opportunity where patients can access a variety of standard care treatment options for their health condition or choose to participate in a clinical trial. For more information about clinical trial opportunities available to you or to ask any questions, contact the Renown Research Office at Renown-CRD@renown.org or 775-982-3646.
Keeping Research Close to Northern Nevada
Clinical research provides agency for our patients navigating a scary diagnosis, and the field has never been stronger in northern Nevada. This strength is thanks in part to the Affiliate Clinical Research Office (ACRO) formed by the 2021 affiliation between Renown Health and the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine. Since its creation, the ACRO team has been busy ensuring that community members have access to the latest care options and exceptional experiences as participants in both research and their healthcare. Here are just a few things that set this office apart from the rest. 1. A focus on engagement In 2022, the ARCO team focused on promoting a research culture with patients, clinicians, residents and students by intentionally engaging with healthcare providers, department administrators, internal research team members and leadership. They educated the community with learning materials that emphasized the importance of doing research. This team also worked with front-line staff to raise awareness and excitement about the clinical research options available for Renown Health patients. 2. Meaningful partnerships The most impactful partnership to date is between Renown Health and UNR Med. By identifying opportunities and leveraging resources across institutions, we have maximized our impact and built a solid and sustainable foundation. This gives the people of northern Nevada greater access to new interventions or novel treatments. This team is also investing in the community and national partnerships to provide training opportunities for our research staff and learning opportunities for our medical students. 3. Novel treatments across many disease areas Our research study offerings must reflect the healthcare needs of our community and the expertise of practicing clinicians. The department has over 80 active studies in neurology, pulmonology, oncology, cardiology, pediatrics and disease prevention. The ARCRO team strives to expand care opportunities to allow our community members to stay close to home when seeking care. This year, they will continue exploring our community's unmet healthcare needs by bringing new treatment options to the greater Reno area.
Top 5 Misconceptions About Clinical Trials
There are many misconceptions about clinical research, so we have unpacked a few common myths we hear to help you make an informed decision in your healthcare. Misconception #1: If I join a clinical trial, I’ll just be a guinea pig. Quite the opposite is true! Through honest and respectful conversation, we ensure all participants are informed of the benefits and risks associated with the clinical trial during the informed consent process. Being in a clinical trial is voluntary, and we respect our patients’ decision to join or decline to participate in the clinical trial. You can always change your mind at any time as well. When patients join a clinical trial, they receive an additional team of healthcare professionals, including additional physicians, pharmacists and research coordinators, dedicated to their safety and well-being. This means that clinical trial participants often receive more support than they would in the standard treatment setting. Misconception #2: Clinical trials are too dangerous because they use new treatments that haven’t been tested. We recognize that there are different levels of risk associated with participating in a clinical trial depending on the type of study. However, new treatments are only reviewed through clinical trials after they have gone through extensive testing. New treatments that do not show promising results for safety and potential benefit during laboratory testing do not receive approval to begin clinical trials. Your research team reviews any expected benefits and risks identified from previous studies during the informed consent process, as well as any updates that occur throughout the duration of the clinical trial. The research team stays in close contact with you during the entire process, documenting and treating any side effects that you experience for both your safety and the safety of participants like you. Misconception #3: I don't want to join a trial because I could be wasting my time receiving a placebo. A placebo is a substance that has no therapeutic effect, sometimes called a “sugar pill.” Participants who receive a placebo during a clinical trial are very important, helping researchers definitively determine the specific good and bad effects of the new medication. Many clinical trials that involve a placebo also offer what is called an open label extension or cross-over study. Cross-over studies ensure that anyone taking the placebo can begin receiving the new medication, often for several years. Cross-over studies help clinician researchers understand the long-term effects of a medication while also giving patients free access to novel care for several months and even years.
What Does It Mean to Participate in a Clinical Trial?
Participating in a clinical trial is voluntary and a personal choice. Clinical trials are research studies that involve people and are an important part of patient care. What is a clinical trial? Clinical trials are research studies that involve people, and they are an important part of patient care. There are several different types of clinical trials; some are designed to understand trends in a disease or identify better ways to diagnose a condition, while others determine if a new treatment is safe and works when treating, improving or preventing a health condition. There are over 400,000 clinical trials currently being conducted in the United States, and even more across the world. This includes health conditions such as heart failure, cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, respiratory conditions like COPD, common infections, cystic fibrosis, and many more. Clinical trials lead the healthcare industry to new discoveries that contribute to reliable and exact care, improving healthcare quality and saving lives. Clinical trials are conducted by a team of researchers, including doctors, pharmacists and clinical research coordinators. These research teams are highly skilled in their specialty areas, often providing traditional patient care and seeing research patients in the same day. These teams are responsible for making sure the clinical trial is completed correctly, and their patients are their top priority. Why should I consider participating in a clinical trial? Participating in a clinical trial is voluntary and a personal choice. There are many reasons why patients decide to get involved in clinical research. While many clinical trials are designed for patients who have a certain health condition, many studies also ask healthy volunteers to contribute in order to compare health outcomes. Clinical trials are also for patients at all different stages of their diagnosis. Depending on the specific study, the patient may receive access to a new cutting-edge treatment before it is widely available. When patients join a clinical trial, the research team becomes a health partner dedicated to their health and well-being. When patients join a clinical trial, they make an informed decision in their healthcare by weighing all available options in addition to routine treatments. Research participants know that they are contributing meaningfully and helping other patients like them. Where can I find more information about clinical trials at Renown Health? Renown Health’s mission is to make a genuine difference in the health and well-being of the communities we serve. Renown’s clinical trial portfolio offers leading care options to patients in northern Nevada, close to home, in a variety of specialties. Contact the Renown Clinical Research Office for more information on clinical trials available to you!
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A Cancer Diagnosis and a Move to Reno
Michael Millman was all set to move to Reno from the Bay Area when he noticed a pimple-like growth on his forehead, and he decided to get biopsied "just in case." It was July 2020, less than six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, when Michael got the call that the biopsy came back cancerous. He was in shock. Still living in the Bay Area at the time, he immediately scheduled to have the basal cell carcinoma removed in August. After the removal, he thought he was in the clear, but a few months later, Michael noticed that his lymph nodes felt weird, and he even cut himself shaving because of some persistent swelling in the area. Given his recent history of skin cancer, Michael immediately scheduled an appointment with a specialist in the Bay Area. "I met with an ear, nose and throat doctor who suggested a fine needle biopsy of my lymph nodes, tongue and an MRI, both with and without contrast," Michael said. "I remember feeling dreadful and that I couldn't believe this was happening yet again." A Hard Decision Michael's squamous cell carcinoma, determined by the pathology report to be significantly influenced by the HPV virus, had metastasized to his lymph nodes on both sides of his neck, and his doctor said it could be stage four cancer. He remembers feeling like he was in quicksand, unsure if he should follow through with his move to Reno, or stay in the Bay Area for treatment. By now, it was early December 2020, and hospitals in the Bay Area and across the world were at limited capacity due to COVID-19. But, in what Michael describes as a positive twist of fate, the San Francisco ear, nose and throat provider he had seen about his biopsy results mentioned that he knew many providers in the oncology department at Renown, including Abhinand Peddada, MD. The San Francisco provider called Dr. Peddada's office with a referral, and Michael even remembers that Renown called him to hear more about his diagnosis before he even got the chance to call them "To be honest, I was feeling shut out in the Bay Area, and Dr. Peddada said he could help me expedite the treatment process," Michael said. "I finally felt a sense of relief." And so began Michael's 7-week chemoradiation cancer treatment program at Renown.
How the UNR Med Affiliation Impacts Renown's Clinical Research
The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine (UNR Med) and Renown Health affiliated in June of 2021. First Integrated Health System The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine (UNR Med) and Renown Health affiliated in June of 2021. This agreement established Nevada’s first integrated health system with missions in education, patient care, and clinical research. While there was extensive media coverage regarding the historic partnership in general, there is less information regarding the important impact to the community. In terms of clinical research, the potential benefits are endless. The School of Medicine has a very successful program in molecular bio sciences. That means they have a plethora of brilliant minds working on the smallest components of life related to body systems and disease. With the affiliation, there is a distinct opportunity to bridge some of these important findings happening on campus and translate them into care protocols for the patients seen in the community. Making connections between the cellular basics to the physical manifestations of conditions is a key opportunity of the affiliation. Additionally, cooperative funding models for projects that fit in the translational research bucket are available to these researchers. Renown and UNR Med are poised to provide potentially cutting-edge treatments with bench to bedside research. Expanding Clinical Trials Perhaps the most important outcome of the affiliation is access to novel treatments via clinical trials. In the coming years, Renown and UNR Med will work to expand their clinical trial portfolio in an effort to provide a clinical trial option for many diseases in addition to standard of care. This endeavor will allow patients to make an informed choice about their healthcare. With novel treatments available right here in Reno, people won’t have to travel to other research institutions for similar care. This eases a tremendous potential burden on patients and families alike navigating complex illnesses like cancer. The affiliation is exciting and provides many opportunities for clinicians (present and future) and the community. Renown's Clinical Research Office is thrilled to be a part of this historic time and are enthusiastic to communicate our successes and opportunities to the community. We sincerely look forward to contributing to the vision of “a healthy Nevada.”
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Ovarian Cancer Survivor Shares Decision to Try Clinical Trial
While there used to be three basic treatment options for cancer -- surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, or a combination of the three -- there's a fourth option: clinical trials. Here, a Renown patient shares her successful battle with ovarian cancer, aided by a clinical trial. Shari Flamm's battle with ovarian cancer began in 2011. She was experiencing prolonged bleeding, irregular thyroid levels and anemia and was scheduled to undergo a hysterectomy. Before the surgery, her gynecologist ran routine tests to check for cancer as a precautionary measure. All tests were negative for cancer, expect her CA 125 test. A CA 125 test measures the amount of the protein CA 125 (cancer antigen 125) in the blood. In some cases, a CA 125 test may be used to look for early signs of ovarian cancer in women with a very high risk of the disease. In most laboratories, the normal level is 0 to 35 units/ml. Flamm's CA 125 level was 121. As Flamm can attest, early diagnosis played a key role in her battle with ovarian cancer. September is Gynecologic Cancer and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month – an important time to learn the signs, symptoms and risk factors of this type of cancer so your doctor can diagnosis the disease as early as possible. Ovarian Cancer: Round One Despite the elevated CA 125 results, her doctor recommended they move forward with the hysterectomy. But when surgery began, doctors discovered a mass. She had stage 4 cancer. The procedure was halted, the mass was biopsied and she was immediately seen by Dr. Peter Lim of the The Center of Hope. Following diagnosis, Flamm underwent surgery with Dr. Lim to remove the cancer, which had spread to part of diaphragm, spleen, colon and other organs. Three months after surgery, Flamm had recovered enough to start six rounds of chemotherapy in her hometown of Carson City. She continued working at a doctor's office during her treatment, and was grateful for Dr. Lim’s ability to co-manage her care so she could stay close to work and family. “To me, chemo was the scariest part because I didn’t like feeling sick,” Flamm says. Thankfully, her body responded well to the treatments and she was back to the things she loved. “I stated working out at the gym, even if it was only for 10 minutes,” she says. She also stayed positive by spending time with her grandchildren, attending a San Jose Sharks hockey game, going for walks and enjoying concerts. Ovarian Cancer: Round Two In November 2014, Flamm had a cancer check-up. That’s when doctors discovered three cancerous tumors. For this round, Flamm choose another treatment option -- clinical trials at Renown Institute for Cancer. Clinical trials are the studies that test whether drugs work, and inform doctors' decisions about how to treat their patients. Flamm participated in a clinical trial that featured oral-targeted therapy stronger than IV chemotherapy. The hope was for the drug to shrink her tumors, however the result was stabilization -- meaning the lumps weren’t growing or spreading. The best part of the clinical trial, Flamm says, was the constant monitoring. Between the CT scans every six weeks, a heart scan every three months and monthly doctor visits, she was confident that if the cancer started growing or spreading, her healthcare team would catch it right away. For Flamm, the benefits of the clinical trial included less hair loss, less fatigue and more time to focus on what’s important in her life -- her family. “I decided I wasn’t going to be that sick grandma on the couch with cancer,” Flamm says. After taking the oral medication for one year, Flamm developed a rash and discontinued treatment due to discomfort. Clinical Trials, Setbacks and Survival In June 2016, two of the three tumors began to grow and had to be surgically removed. Despite the setback, Flamm was determined to maintain a positive outlook. "You have to stay positive because cancer feeds off anger, depression and stress," Flamm says. Flamm was released to go home with clear margins, meaning the tumors were removed and are surrounded by a rim of normal tissue that does not have cancerous cells. Flamm says her outlook on life has changed drastically since her first cancer diagnosis. “Your whole mentality changes when cancer disturbs your life," Flann says. "The things that weren’t important, are now ever so important. I’m a lot calmer now,” Flamm says.
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