Jacksonville Becoming Magnet for Clinical Trials; with Its Mix of Academic Medical Centers and Its Diverse Population, It's a Fertile Site for Such Research

Article excerpt

Byline: URVAKSH KARKARIA

In 2003, Jack Benz found himself out of options.

The 74-year-old has chronic chest pain -- and even five bypass surgeries have not brought relief.

"All of my main arteries ... are open," said Benz, who lives in suburban Nashville, Tenn. "But, I have some small arteries that are too small to stent and too small to balloon. There's nothing they can do with them."

Without alternatives, Benz turned to a University of Florida clinical trial at Shands Jacksonville. The study, which involves about 15 patients, is trying to use stem cells to help grow blood vessels and improve blood flow in the heart. Stem cells produced in Benz's bone marrow are injected with a tube into areas of his heart with poor blood flow to reduce the chest pain.

Clinical trials, like the one being done at Shands, determine the safety and effectiveness of a new drug, medical device or treatment. The studies, which can range from a handful of participants to tens of thousands, are done at hospitals, physician offices and by private companies.

Shirley Rivera, a Northside resident, signed on to the UF stem cell trial last June after chest pains made it hard for her to even walk.

"This was the last resort" said Rivera , who has already had open heart surgery. "Without [the trial] I don't know how long I might have lasted."

Rivera likes what she sees from the trial, so far.

"I [can] do a little more than I did," the 62-year-old said. "I get around more than I did."

Benz and Rivera are among hundreds of patients putting their lives in the hands of experimental medical treatments and unproven drugs, desperate to beat their illnesses.

And Jacksonville, with its mix of academic medical centers and diverse population, is becoming a magnet for such research.

Consider this: Jacksonville -- with about 460 trials recruiting as of July 13 -- was second only to Miami in Florida, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). The following is a primer on clinical trials, why Jacksonville is a clinical trial powerhouse, and why that's good for you.

WHY IS JACKSONVILLE A MAJOR CLINICAL TRIAL SITE?

Jacksonville's ballooning population, with a diverse socio-economic and ethnic background, makes it a fertile site to conduct clinical trials. Multi-center trials require a diverse patient population, including minorities, to truly gauge the effect of the drug or treatment being tested, said Tina Bottini, director of research at the University of Florida at Shands Jacksonville.

Being an urban center, Jacksonville has the minority populations such trials need, she said.

The region's academic centers like Mayo Clinic and Shands have the infrastructure clinical trials need to be effective.

Shands, for instance, has about 70 clinical research coordinators who do nothing but recruit trials, said Alan Berger, assistant dean of research at the University of Florida in Jacksonville.

Large academic centers have the sub-specialists, like radiologists and oncologists, needed to conduct the studies and the patients needed to participate in them. …