July 2, 2012

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Article

Biotech Pioneers

From the Lab to the Factory to the Hospital, Utah Leads the Way in Life Sciences

Spencer Sutherland

July 2, 2012

Bringing Innovation to Patients
It’s not only Utah’s for-profit companies that are focusing on medical research and innovations. Nonprofit hospital systems throughout the state are also quickly becoming hotbeds for advancement in areas ranging from heart care to cancer treatment.

Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare performs research in nearly all medical specialty areas, often in collaboration with partners at the University of Utah and other institutions throughout the country.

Intermountain recently helped discover 13 new genetic markers for heart disease, more than doubling the known database of 10. The hospital system has also developed a maternal-fetal mapping system to better know when a baby is stressed inside the womb so physicians can determine whether a mother needs a c-section. 

“We’ve also found connections between Alzheimer's and cardiac problems, been the first in the nation to insert a heart pump during a cardiac catheterization and currently have 52 research trials underway in the area of cancer alone,” says Jason Burgess, spokesperson for Intermountain Healthcare. “In total, we have 1,340 research studies underway.” The reason for all of the research, which comes at no small cost to the organization, is simple, Burgess says. “It means better care. It helps patients live healthier lives.”

Aligning Education and Economy
While the success of Utah’s life science industry is driven by new ideas and an entrepreneurial spirit, it also enjoys a solid foundation of support from a wide range of state agencies.

In the early 2000s, the state received a $5 million federal grant as part of the Workforce Innovations in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) initiative. The state has used those dollars to provide workforce development support to the life science industry.

“The WIRED initiative was focused on bringing in partners that may not have had a working relationship prior to the grant, including public education, higher education, industry, government and nonprofits,” explains Dr. Tami Goetz, GOED’s State Science Advisor.

WIRED targets both K-12 and college students, exposing them to many areas of science, technology, engineering and math. Adding hands-on experience to conceptual learning leads to graduates who are workforce ready.

Goetz says the initiative is a win-win for both students and the life science industry. “Whatever the industry, you need to be concerned with talent—whether you have access to an adequate amount of talent, and talent that is well trained and ready to go into the workforce. If you can’t find the right kind of talent, you’re not going to grow.”

At the time of the initiative, the state looked at its programs to see if its students were competitive in the life sciences, and then made changes to meet the current and projected needs of the industry.

“From a student’s point of view, being aware of all the options that are available once you graduate impacts the choices that you make throughout your education,” Goetz says. “We work to let our students know that if they get a four-year biotechnology degree from Utah Valley University, there will be jobs for them when they’re done.”

Utah business and community leaders are also working to help solidify the link between education and economic development. Led by local chambers of commerce, the Prosperity 2020 movement was recently created to advance educational investment and innovation. The movement wants the state to reach two goals: 90 percent of elementary students achieving math and reading proficiency; and two-thirds of Utahns achieving post-secondary training by 2020.

Lane Beattie, President and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber explains the importance of the initiative. "Utah businesses—those that start here and those that come here—can only grow with a first-class workforce. Our ability to educate our students and prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow's economy will determine our economic strength and our life quality for decades to come.” Whether in the life sciences or any other sector, he adds, “It is critical that we raise the bar of expectation and that we increase our level of investment and innovation in education."

Relevant Websites
Idaho Technology
www.idahotech.com

Idaho Technology – Film Array
http://www.idahotech.com/FilmArray/index.html

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