Las Vegas may be known for its glitz, glamour and gambling, but Southern Nevada is also making a name for itself when it comes to another endeavor — medical research.
Leading the way is the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health with its research to find cures for Alzheimer’s disease and other afflictions. Roseman University, which is opening a medical school in Las Vegas in 2017, has become a big player in medical research with the acquisition of the 184,000-square-foot Nevada Cancer Institute’s Ralph and Betty Engelstad Cancer Research Building as part of a merger.
Touro University Nevada, which has the only existing medical school in Las Vegas, conducts research as well.
With Alzheimer’s disease the most common cause of memory problems in the elderly and no proper treatment, the Cleveland Clinic’s Las Vegas center is heavily engaged in clinical trials that test new drugs that may be helpful in improving the symptoms of Alzheimer’s or slowing the loss of function that accompanies it, said Dr. Jeffrey Cummings, the center’s director. It has 20 researchers at the center.
“I would say we have a large program with over 30 trials conducted in just the four years since we’ve been here,” Cummings said. “We have drugs that are promising even though none of them have completely proven yet to either reverse or cure the disease. There could be a breakthrough tomorrow or a breakthrough in 10 years. You just keep working toward that meaningful therapy and eventually we’ll get there.”
In January, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic announced participation in a new clinical trial designed to test the effectiveness of a currently approved diabetes drug to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Not only is the Cleveland Clinic participating in many of the trials that are being conducted throughout the United States, but it is one of leaders on the steering committees or leadership committees that helps choose the trials that need to be conducted to have the greatest impact on the disease, Cummings said. He added it’s great to be part of a growing medical research community in Las Vegas.
“I think it says Las Vegas can be really proud of the medical care and research activities that are going on here and that they would be competitive with any Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis program in the country and in many cases we are actually leading these programs,” Cummings said.
Besides the research it does, the center provides care for cognitive disorders and for family members of those who suffer from them. Cummings said one new initiative this year is setting up a registry to get as many people in Southern Nevada and the rest of the state signed up to let them know about new trials.
“The only way to test new drugs is in clinical trials and you have to get people to volunteer for those trials,” Cummings said. “The greater our reach, the more people in Las Vegas can participate in helping us advance the science.”
Roseman University began building its research program in preparation for opening its College of Medicine. That research element is a required component of opening the school.
The program has expanded its medical research into breast, ovarian, lung, prostate and brain cancers, melanoma and mesothelioma. Its other research areas include diabetes and obesity, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
The researchers are also studying adult stem cell and regenerative medicine as well. Its research will expand as the College of Medicine opens and grows, officials said.
Roseman’s vice president of research is Dr. Ronald Fiscus, the former director of molecular biology at the Nevada Cancer Institute. He said what sets Roseman apart from other universities and centers in the nation is its state-of-the-art equipment.
Some of its advanced research equipment isn’t even available in Southern California, Arizona and Utah. One piece of equipment called an ultrasensitive capillary-electrophoresis-based nanofluidic immuno-detection instrument has an enhanced sensitivity that allows it to analyze cell populations, isolated stem cells, tumor aspirates and microbiopsies, Fiscus said. Labs are equipped with other advanced equipment that helps target new and more effective therapeutic agents, he said.
Roseman even has a Research Center for Substance Abuse and Depression. It announced a discovery of a fast-acting antidepressant drug that gained national and international attention. Roseman also does research at its College of Pharmacy and College of Dental Medicine.
At Touro, the osteopathic medicine, physician assistant, nursing physical therapy and occupational therapy programs are developing university-wide research on health care delivery and development of technology, spokesman Melody Kelly said.