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City of Hope's Biller Center underpins grants to bring 'humanistic side' to healthcare

In a healthcare world where breaking down traditional silos will be a key part of addressing the challenge of change that lies ahead, the hands-on philanthropy of a Seattle couple in their involvement with City of Hope has been the underpinning of two grants to provide training on the humanistic side of medicine.

 

The grants, both $1.5 million for five years, are from the National Cancer Institute to City of Hope, a nationally regarded cancer research and treatment facility in Duarte, east of Los Angeles, and are designed to train representatives from cancer centers around the country. By seeking involvement in the programs, the institutions have indicated they wish to change, and want to understand how to go about it.

 

Matt Loscalzo, executive director of the department of supportive care medicine at City of Hope, helped create the models for both the breaking-down-silos grant and one for a tablet-based program to train health professionals in how to screen cancer patients for issues that might affect their care.

 

He credits City of Hope's Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center, supported with both dollars and direct involvement by the couple who transplanted from Los Angeles to Seattle several years ago, with attracting the attention of NCI to the grant applications.

 

"We would not have gotten these grants, at a time when very few grants are being funded, without the philanthropic and institutional partnership that exists between CoH and the Billers, who are veryactively involved in the operations of the Center," Loscalzo said. "Most institutions say to philanthropists, 'we're pleased to get your money, now please leave us alone.' It doesn't happen that way with CoH and the Billers."

 

City of Hope bills the center, which in October is celebrating the fifth anniversary of its opening, as "the international model for compassionate care" and touts CoH itself as "one of the only institutions in the United States to offer this level of comprehensive support."

 

The grant that is likely most exciting to Loscalzo, whom I met at City of Hope two years ago in an introduction by Sheri Biller, is the one to train representative teams from other cancer-care institutions in the use of the tablet, a device named theSupportScreen. He pioneered the device that has become a vital part of the compassionate care that is the key to the Biller Center's success.

 

Loscalzo says the SupportScreen, a "primitive prototype" of which he brought to City of Hope when he came there from UC-San Diego in 2007, is used to identify physical symptoms, psychosocial problems, family concerns and triages the patient's concerns to the designated professionals or resources."

 

The SupportScreen prompts patients to answer various questions regarding their care and concerns and researchers have found that patients are frequently more likely to share fears and concernswhen prompted by a computer application rather than by face-to-face personal questions.

 

Although the Billers have moved to Seattle, where Les has become chairman of Sterling Bank, they remain closely involved with City of Hope, where Sheri is chair of the board.

 

The purpose of both grants is to, as Loscalzo puts it, "transform the humanistic side of medicine, a recognition that innovative approaches that are patient and family centered represent an idea whose time is coming, real soon. And the rest will come later."

 

While both grants are focused on cancer care, Loscalzo suggests "they are models for dealing with other chronic diseases."

 

Evidence of the interest the silos-breakdown concept is having with healthcare facilities around the country is that the next session, to be held in October at Mt Sinai Hospital in New York, which is City of Hope's partner in the grants, attracted more than 200 applicants for the 50 spots. City of Hope and Mt. Sinai will rotate in conducting the semi-annual programs.

 

The grants will entail training teams of health care professionals: physicians, nurses, social workers, psychologists, business administrators and chaplains who, when they return to their respective institutions, will be expected to begin a process of changing the cultures there.

 

The institutions that have sent representatives to the sessions have agreed in advance that they want agents of change trained in how to do that, and the programs involve regular followups with the attendees to track their progress and assist with challenges in leading the change process.

 

And the breadth and extent of interest by cancer centers around the country should be taken as a positive sign that they understand the need to change.

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Acceptance from traditional medicine grows for discoveries made in 'the other medicine

The personal quest for information on how best to deal with cancer inevitably leads to discovery of "the other medicine."

 

And in reaching out over a period of months for information to help me make the best decision on how to deal with a fortunately slow-growing cancer, I learned that some who practice traditional medicine have only a vague awareness of what's emerging in that other medicine.

 

The growing acceptance of nature's role in helping combat serious illness isn't surprising to those aware that an estimated 70 percent of new drugs originate from natural sources.

 

Two of nature's cancer fighters in particular got my attention in my search. One, mushrooms, are being seen in a new light. The other, something called artemisinin (to which I've introduced some of my healthcare providers) is just coming into the light, though known in China for decades, some suggest centuries.

 

First about artemisinin, a product of the ancient Chinese herb, Artemisia. It's only in the last half-dozen years that artemisinin has quickly become the worldwide treatment of choice for malaria. That's apparently because it becomes highly toxic in the presence of iron, which malaria parasites contain in abundance from the human red-blood cells they consume.

 

Because cancer cells consume lots of iron, that's led to testing and research, including at the University of Washington, focusing on artemisinin for treatment of cancer.

 

The scientific explanation about the "significant anticancer effects" artemisinin is suspected to have is that it contains peroxide and research suggests that when peroxide comes in contact with cells having high iron concentrations, it becomes toxic to those cells. Fortunately, normal cells don't contain a lot of iron.

 

I was introduced to artemisinin when a naturopathic doctor at Bastyr recommended it to me and I proceeded to research it to learn what I was getting into. The research proved to be fascinating.

 

I proceeded to tell each of several doctors I was working with, from primary care to surgeon, about artemisinin and each either went to their laptop to look it up or took notes. It was obvious that they were not letting their egos get in the way of being open to new information, even if from a patient, although one oncologist I told about artemisinin confided that he has prescribed it for one of his breast-cancer patients.

 

Much more will be heard of artemisinin and I found that the word is already spreading when I called the Bastyr dispensary to get a refill and was told "we just learned from the manufacturer that there won't be any more until the end of June." They did, however, get a special re-order for me.

 

Now to mushrooms, which gained fame and somewhat widespread use in certain circles as the late Dr. Timothy Leary promoted to the hippie counterculture the psychedelic experience of the Psilocybin mushrooms he'd discovered in Asia, thus providing many with entry into the psychedelic world.

 

The memory of those days of "magic mushrooms" lingers strongly enough for some who remember the era that when I mentioned to a friend that I was looking into mushrooms, she asked with a wink: "what kind of mushrooms are we talking about?"

 

Now their cancer-fighting potential, as well as a growing awareness about other benefits, is emerging into the mainstream such that the most respected cancer hospitals are testing them and entrepreneurs are looking to build new businesses around their appeal.

 

At City of Hope, the leading-edge cancer-care hospital in Duarte, east of Los Angeles, researchers are speeding findings about mushrooms' cancer-fighting properties from the lab to clinical trials. After showing that mushroom extract slows breast cancer growth in mice, the team will soon begin human clinical studies involving breast and prostate cancers.

 

Dr. Michael Friedman, City of Hope CEO whom I met with during my cancer-treatment explorations, says "Our data suggest that white button mushrooms may delay progression of biochemically recurrent prostate cancer in some men. Further studies to clarify the mechanism of action and benefit are warranted."

 

And a study funded by the National Institutes of Health's Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine recently concluded that turkey tail mushrooms improve the immune systems of breast cancer patients. The study was conducted jointly by the University of Washington, the respected naturopathic Bastyr University in the Seattle and the University of Minnesota.

Medicinal mushrooms'

Mushrooms as part of emerging health
consciousness lure Seattle entrepreneurs
 
  

Convinced that "medicinal mushrooms" will attract an ever-growing audience of health-conscious consumers, a fledgling Seattle company that launched a mushroom-based animal-products company a year ago is planning to expand the business to products for people.

 

Ryan Lentz, who was baseball star at University of Washington and professional ball player for four years before an injury ended his career, a year ago co-founded Noah's Nutritionals, first focused on horses then adding a mushroom product for dogs, as literally a "friends and family" company.

 

The friends and family who have now joined in co-founding a mushroom-product direct marketing company called myCELIA, are Pennie Pickering and Richard Roberts, husband and wife co-founders of marketing-and-communications firm Palazzo Creative, and Mark Wolf. Pickering is Lentz' aunt and Wolf, who will head international business development for the new company, was his former real-estate development partner.

 

As they head for a launch of myCELIA in the first quarter of next year, Pickering, who is the vice president of marketing, explained that the two animal products that are conventionally marketed will be rolled into a parent C-Corp., MPower, along with the people-focused subsidiary.

 

They have tapped as "chief scientist and medical spokesperson" Dr. Marvin Hausman, a Sherwood, OR-physician who is billed as a world expert in medicinal mushroom research and who holds a number of mushroom-related patents" in partnership with Penn State University.

 

The direct marketing of mushroom-supplements isn't yet a crowded field, but there are two heavyweight competitors, both Asia based, that have carved out substantial reputations as multi-level marketing companies focused on mushroom-based products.

 

One is the Malaysian-based Gano Excel, a $500 million business that sells one of their mushroom extracts in coffee and Pickering says she and Lentz believe that having a unique mushroom-based coffee will be an important product for myCELIA.

 

The founders view the tie to Hausman, who created mushroom supplements to help keep the horses owned by his equestrian-champion wife healthy, as a marketing leg up. His supplement apparently gained widespread visibility in the equine community when it was used by a group of veterinarians struggling to control an equine herpes outbreak in Florida.

 

His mushroom supplements gained additional attention when horse-trainer Carl Nafzger put his prize horse "Street Sense" and 35 other horses on the mushroom supplement and "Street Sense" wound up winning the 2007 Kentucky Derby.

 

Lentz, introduced to Hausman through a friend, says he soon began using the mushroom formula himself for his own injuries after seeing the effect in had on the diseased mouth of his dog, and that led him to form MPower.

 

All of those details, as well as the initial success of the animal-mushroom products that already have an agreement with a German distributor for $100,000 a year of product, will be part of the company's message to potential investors as they seek to launch their direct-rmarketing company, which Pickering refers to as "social sales." .

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Healthcare uncertainties retard efforts to expand cancer 'compassionate care'

The uncertain future course of national health care is retarding fledgling efforts to expand what's known as "compassionate care" for cancer patients as hospitals in Seattle and elsewhere are proving reluctant to launch new cancer programs that drain rather than enhance revenue.

 

Matt Loscalzo, who helped develop the concept of "psychosocial" programs as the underpinning of "compassionate care" for cancer patients and their families, laments that major hospitals around the country have been reluctant to incorporate it into their treatment programs.

 

But Loscalzo. executive director of the Department of Supportive Care Medicine at the respected City of Hope in Duarte, east of Los Angeles, is careful not to criticize the major hospitals, including those with highly touted cancer-care programs, for failing to move toward psychosocial treatment programs.

 

"All hospitals and institutions are holding their collective breath over the challenges they face," Loscalzo says. "These hospitals represent a lot of good people under a lot of stress. First they have to keep the lights on, then attract good people, then meet a tremendous amount of regulation, insurance challenges and Medicare cutbacks."

 

Loscalzo is a pioneer nationally in the development of  psychosocial programs and he has guided development of a touchscreen tablet that allows cancer patients to deal with the mental and emotional issues beyond their medical problems.

 

The device, called SupportScreen, is a cornerstone of City of Hope's leading-edge focus on compassionate care. The device, which is programmed specifically for each patient, is designed to electronically record distress levels, through answers on touchpads, by asking cancer patients to identify and rate their practical, social and emotional problems along with medical information.

 

Patients reveal concerns that might otherwise go unrecognized, such as mental health imbalances, stresses over personal finances or insurance coverage concerns, or suicidal thoughts.  The information, which the patient knows will be shared with the entire healthcare team, allows that team to immediately provide integrated treatments and crises interventions.

 

And because of the efforts of a philanthropic couple who maintain residences in both Los Angeles and Seattle, visibility for SupportScreen will be coming to Seattle and, with it, a heightened awareness of what compassionate care actually means to cancer patients' outcomes.

 

Loscalzo's other role at City of Hope is as administrative director of the Sheri and Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center, created nearly four years ago through the vision and financial support of the Billers to create an international model of compassionate care. His psychosocial program, including, the touchscreen tablet, is a major part of the Biller Center's unique offerings.

 

The reach and influence of the Billers has given Loscalzo's efforts a major boost. Sheri is chair of the City of Hope board and Les is retired vice chair of Wells Fargo and current board chair for Spokane-based Sterling Savings.

 

Loscalzo's goal is to move the psychosocial program concept, complete with the SupportScreen, into the mainstream of cancer care, expanding its reach well beyond the handful of cancer hospitals where the program is now being introduced. The only other one in the West, in addition to the City of Hope, is the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, which Loscalzo describes as "a fairly new center that is really trying to get is program up and running."

 

"The number of cancer survivors nationally is nearing 12 million and for them, psychosocial is going to be a part of the rest of their lives," Loscalzo says. "There are humanistic and financial costs for ignoring the psychosocial needs of patients and their families, as well as of cancer survivors."

 

In the nearly four years since their philanthropy allowed the Biller Center to open, the Billers have made the City of Hope's focus on compassionate care, including the SupportScreen, their cause.

 

It was because of a friendship with the Billers and a personal interest in the cancer initiatives there that I was able to get a first-hand look late last year at the programs of City of Hope and its almost unique focus on compassionate care. thus I had a chance to meet key players there, including Dr. Michael Friedman, who is president an CEO, and Loscalzo.

 

Because the Billers are givers, they share the willingness of all practiced philanthropists to also be askers, tapping friends, colleagues and associates to support their cause with personal involvement and financial support.

 

For three years, Sheri Biller's "ask" has been on behalf of a team of what she calls "Resource Racers" in an all-women's half marathon in New York City to raise money to augment the basic support for the Biller Center at City of Hope that's provided by the Biller Family Foundation.

 

This year, the call has gone out from both Sheri and Les Biller for "generous" contributions to her Resource Racers, including men as participants for the first time, for the Rock 'n Roll Marathon/Half Marathon in Seattle in late June. The donations this year will go specifically to expand the use and the number of SupportScreens available to City of Hope's cancer patients.

 

That may well bring visibility for the first time to cancer-care supporters in the Northwest, who may legitimately ask "why not here," given the cancer-care reputations of major hospitals in Seattle and Portland.

 

Meanwhile, Loscalzo's vision is to develop a touchscreen specifically aimed at children suffering from cancer. But that may be a ways off.

 

"We want to incorporate things like animation into the software of the SupportScreens we develop for youngsters," Loscalzo says. "A rough estimate is that we'll need about $1 million for development of those children's screens."

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