Region Has Finger On Medical Industry Pulse

September 16, 2002
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Grand Rapids Business Journal this week reports extensively on the growing medical businesses in the West Michigan region, a Focus Section that provides some very big news stories in regard to recent accomplishments — and growing expertise. For purposes here, the Focus Section also provides some hint of contrast between emerging, simplified medical procedures and the current escalation in medical health costs to employers.

Some medical product manufacturers are finding new uses for improved materials, which are less costly. Several “breakthrough” medical devices developed in Grand Rapids provide new ways to deal with health problems, methods that require less surgery, hospital time, patient recovery time — and less “down time” from the patient’s job.

The view of health care, as represented in this issue, certainly offers insurers new opportunities to evaluate techniques to reduce costs: improved patient outcomes with less invasive (and fewer) procedures. It offers employers some hope in battling the current, unending escalation in health care benefit package pricing.

Grand Rapids Business Journal also reports this week on former President Jimmy Carter’s agreement to serve with former President Gerald R. Ford on the Van Andel Institute Hope on the Hill Foundation, and more importantly, on the achievements of the VAI in its brief two-year history (See story, page 9). These achievements are certain to bring further control of costs, which also offers the best reason for employers to support the Institute’s funding goals.

VAI scientists have published more than 50 articles in professional journals in two years. Further, the institute is developing a potential treatment for melanoma; has identified genes that indicate favorable (and unfavorable) outcomes for patients with certain types of cancer; and has sub-classified genes to predict a patient’s outcome, ultimately providing less (or more) aggressive treatment.

A Calvin College biology professor has discovered that a naturally occurring substance can be used to reduce inflammation and pain in arthritic joints. Medtronic (formerly DLP) has developed a genetically engineered version of a natural protein to treat the 65 million Americans with lower back pain (85 percent of which result in disc degeneration and painful surgeries). These particular product developments provide some edge against one of the current top reasons given for health care cost increases: an aging population of baby boomers.

The advances cited in this week’s Journal are but the tip of the iceberg of known advances — all being developed in Grand Rapids. Lest readers believe such work has come only with the new millennium, it is important to acknowledge the legacy already built by pioneers like James DeVries and Ronald Williams, co-founders of DLP; the numerous products developed by X Rite; John Hodgen, M.D., who developed the first prostheses for children (and helped establish Mary Free Bed), Alfred Swanson, M.D., and Dr. Pearl Kendrick and Dr. Grace Elderling who developed the first viable vaccine for pertussis. Grand Rapids was the first community to fluoridate its water, a comparatively simple action saving countless costs (and teeth).

This week, Grand Rapids Business Journal tips the hat to these significant accomplishments by individuals so busy in labs it does not occur to them to stop and tell the story.           

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