Med School: Step Toward New Economy

February 10, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The stakeholder group that brought the concept of a medical school in Grand Rapids to fruition is now embracing a vision that's well beyond the medical school project. It's the vision of creating a knowledge-based economy in West Michigan.

Steve Heacock, chief administrative officer of the Van Andel Institute, said that vision brings to the community a level of professional education that is just a step away from the knowledge that's needed for the community to succeed in the life sciences.

There has been a lot of buzz about how the MichiganStateUniversityWestMichiganMedicalSchool could potentially impact the Grand Rapids economy and the local health care scene. That subject took center stage once again at the annual "MSU Means Business" event at the Van Andel Institute Tuesday.

Heacock lauded the work of the stakeholder group that included Saint Mary's Health, Spectrum Health, Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University, The Right Place Inc., Grand Action and the Van Andel Institute.

"To get such diverse entities to come together with a joint vision means that it must be a pretty good vision," Heacock told attendees of the event, which was sponsored by the MSU Alumni Club of West Michigan. "They're all visionaries in their own right, and they all have a very clear idea of where they want to take their own entities and where they want to take this community."

"It is very exciting. It's monumental. It really is an 'earth change' and it needs to be perceived that way, because, frankly, it's going to take that level of effort for us to get this done."

He said that having the asset of the Van Andel Institute already in place — with its 150 scientific researchers and soon-to-be 750 scientists with the institute's planned expansion — the community has the opportunity to create a new economy. Added to that is the strong health care base provided by Spectrum Health, Saint Mary's, Metro Health and other health care entities in the region, he said.

"What you have is the opportunity to create clinical studies, a destination hospital, by having some sub-specialties we do not currently have, and the opportunity we have to treat with world-class technology the people of this community," Heacock said. "The realization of a life science economy, in my view, is not possible without a medical school."

The area currently has professionals involved in basic research and clinical work, but that has to be expanded to include translational science, he said. Translational research and clinical research are core components of afull-spectrum biomedical research enterprise, according to the National Institutes of Health. Translational research is defined as the interface between basic research and its application in a clinical setting for the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of a disease. It's the application of a discovery to the practice of medicine — "from the lab to the bedside," so to speak.

MichiganState is excited about expanding into more sub-specialty work, more research and more technical work, and we're in an area where that's exactly what we need," Heacock said. "The way we're going to do this is that Van Andel Institute and MichiganState researchers, together with people from the hospitals, are going to sit down and design a research enterprise plan for the next five years."

As Heacock explained it, there will be new focus on scientific research clusters to translate biomedical discoveries into patient treatments. That means starting with a dozen or so researchers, each of whom will have six to seven post-doctoral lab assistants, and focusing their efforts on one cluster. The clusters will cover cancer, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis and neurobiology.

The MSUWestMichiganMedicalSchool will open its doors here in 2008 and is expected to be in operation as a full, four-year medical school in early 2010.    

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