For the medical community, 2020 has been a year of unprecedented challenges and uphill battles. But right here in Cincinnati, healthcare professionals have persevered, leading the charge to bring innovative care to the patients who need it most.
In the Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine, UC Health Is on the Front Lines
When the world was crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic, UC Health found itself centerstage, not only in the fight to keep patients alive, but at the forefront of a global effort to develop a safe, effective vaccine for the virus.
UC Health is one of 90 sites in the U.S. selected for the study, facilitated by Moderna Therapeutics and funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Moderna plans to enroll at least 30,000 participants across the U.S.—as many as 500 of those will be from UC.
“It’s really all hands on deck,” says Carl Fichtenbaum, M.D., the study’s co-investigator and medical director.
Volunteers receive two doses, 28 days apart, either of the vaccine or a placebo. In addition to keeping daily electronic diaries to track their symptoms in the coming months, participants will follow up with UC Health for the next two years, which will al- low researchers to better understand the vaccine’s long-term effects.
Part of UC Health’s research will also place a special focus on historically underserved populations, an endeavor Fichtenbaum hopes will make the study more reflective not only of the country’s population, but of the groups that have been hit hardest by the pandemic.
And in the face of concerns that a vaccine is being rushed as a means to political ends, Fichtenbaum says that “there are no parts that have been skipped in this vaccine development.” Think of it, he says, as something like a Manhattan Project to develop a solution to a terrible global problem.
“This kind of infection, we’re re- ally blind,” Fichtenbaum says. “We have 200,000 people who’ve died, and many more who’ve been very, very sick from this. And that will continue to happen until we find the solution.”
OHC’s Groundbreaking Car-T Cell Treatment Is Saving Lives
Traditionally, a cancer diagnosis means a limited, grueling scope of treatment options: surgery, radiation, or chemo- therapy—perhaps even a combination of the three. But what if a patient could harness the might of their own immune cells to fight the disease?
Thanks to a revolutionary new development in cancer treatment, doctors with Oncology Hematology Care are able to do just that. OHC is the first cancer center in the region and one of the only in Ohio to offer a new type of cell therapy to adult patients with aggressive blood cancers—particularly relapsed or refractory large B-cell lymphoma—who have failed two or more types of cancer therapy.
In chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy—CAR-T cell therapy, for short—doctors harvest a patient’s immune cells and engineer them to recognize and kill the cancer cells. Even after the cancer has been eradicated, these modified T-cells stay in the body, where they multiply and continue looking out for new cancer, striking before recurrence.
OHC’s CAR-T cell efforts are front- ed by James H. Essell, M.D., a national expert who also heads the CAR-T pro- gram for the US Oncology Network.
“CAR-T is a combination of targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and cellular therapy, ” Essell says. “And we were the first and the only place in the tri-state for adults to offer this.”
OHC is running multiple clinical trials for CAR-T patients, with several more on the horizon. The three-year data from the greater CAR-T cell community is promising. Nationally, only about 45 percent of patients who have undergone CAR-T therapy have relapsed, Essell says. And during the two years OHC doctors have been using CAR-T therapy, nearly half of patients have experienced remission.
“This is really a unique place. Not only for CAR-T,” Essell says. “There’s no other accredited program like this in the region. And this should be the place where people who have metabolic malignancies to go.”
The Jewish Hospital Recognized for Skull Base Surgery
Filled with a complex system of bones, arteries, and nerves that control patients’ senses, the skull base region is a tricky space for surgeons to access, particularly when it comes to removing tumors. But at The Jewish Hospital–Mercy Health, patients can trust that they’re in expert hands with Cincinnati’s only team performing complicated skull base surgeries.
This year, the hospital’s neuro-oncology center, in partnership with Mayfield Brain and Spine, received special recognition from the North American Skull Base Society for its specialized skull base surgery program, which provides treatment options for patients with tumors or growths on the underside of the brain, base of skull, or top of the vertebrae.
Patients who require precision operations to remove these growths benefit from the expertise of two fellowship- trained Mayfield neurosurgeons, Yair Gozal, M.D., and Vince DiNapoli, M.D., medical director of the Brain Tumor Center at The Jewish Hospital.
Even the most common skull base procedures, such as pituitary adenoma, meningioma, and acoustic neuroma, require a specialized team of doctors from across disciplines.
“It’s not just one surgeon trying to make these things happen,” DiNapoli says. “It’s a collaborative effort amongst a group of specialized [ear, nose, and throat] surgeons.”
Because skull base surgeries are so technically intensive, with surgery time ranging anywhere from three to even 18 hours, Jewish has developed a special team-based approach to minimize surgeon fatigue and maximize the chances of success, which can ultimately lead to life-saving outcomes.
“We’re trying to invest in some- thing that’s good for the Cincinnati community,” DiNapoli says. “That’s really what has been my mission the whole time: to just try to create a center that really is a place that people can go in Cincinnati and trust that they’re getting the absolute best care.”
The Christ Hospital Debuts Women’s Heart Center
The Christ Hospital is poised to be- come a national leader in women’s heart health with the unveiling of a new medical center that will be one of only a few of its kind in the region.
The Women’s Heart Center, a one- stop shop for women’s cardiovascular care, will feature a clinic to treat common heart conditions, specialists who focus on pregnancy and postpartum heart health, preventative care for women at high risk, and a team of cardio-oncologists to support women facing cancers and treatments that can affect cardiovascular health.
To lead the new center, The Christ Hospital tapped cardiologist Odayme Quesada, M.D. Fresh off a fellow- ship at Los Angeles’s Cedars-Sinai, Quesada arrives with a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, which she hopes to use to study pre- eclampsia’s link to increased risk for heart disease later in life.
“One fact that a lot of people don’t realize in the community is [that heart disease is] the number one killer of both men and women—not just men,” Quesada says. The statistics, indeed, are staggering. According to the CDC, one in every five female deaths is attributed to heart disease.
And when it comes to dangerous cardiac events, women tend to present different symptoms than men. Women may be more likely to feel pain in their arms, neck, or jaw. Quesada says that makes prevention and education crucial parts of the Women’s Heart Center’s mission.
“And then outreach is part of that too—part of educating the community and reaching out to patients from all walks of life at our center.”
TriHealth’s Ion Robot Could Be a Key to Improving Outcomes
Patients undergoing screening for lung cancer can now get quicker, more conclusive results thanks to a new, highly specialized piece of diagnostic technology available at TriHealth.
Using the Ion Robot, surgeons can reach parts of the lung that were previously deemed inaccessible. It’s an advancement that could lead to earlier diagnosis of lung cancer, and potentially, earlier treatment.
The biopsy procedure is typically reserved for patients with smaller nodules that are in hard-to-reach areas of the lung. While the presence of nodules or spots on the lung doesn’t necessarily mean a patient has a tumor—or lung cancer— the Ion Robot procedure gives doctors and patients a greater degree of certainty.
“Unfortunately, some of these can end up being early lung cancers,” says Craig Eisentrout, M.D., director of TriHealth’s lung cancer screening pro- gram. “Oftentimes, because of the size or the location of the spots within the lung, the only options we would have would be to send someone off for surgery…or to just follow up with a CAT scan.”
TriHealth is one of only about 20 centers in the U.S. utilizing the Ion Robot technology. Eisentrout encourages those who think they may be eligible to talk to their doctor about an Ion procedure. Eligible patients will have smoked about 30 years, on average a pack of cigarettes a day, and will be between the ages of 55 and 77.
“The key is finding these cancers early,” Eisentrout says. “If you don’t find lung cancers early, they’re very difficult to treat. The Ion is part of that process to try to save lives. And I see it as a major step forward to get that done.”