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In this article:
Swedish recognizes the groundbreaking work of clinicians and researchers whose work is changing lives today and will continue to do so in the future.
Clinical trials help us understand disease processes and whether or not treatments work within specific patient populations.
Swedish is currently leading or partnering in over 630 clinical trials in 30 areas of study.
Polio has been eradicated. Diseases like measles are much less of a threat than they were in the past. The fact is, neither disease simply disappeared on its own. Medicine and clinical research played critical roles in discovering how they worked and developing the cures and treatments for them that have saved numerous lives and spared millions from illness, chronic disability and death. We see that same vision, drive and dedication in today's clinicians and researchers working toward treatments and vaccines for other kinds of illness and disease.
May 20 is Clinical Trials Day, when we celebrate the incredible work of the researchers who have made historic medical advances possible. We also highlight work currently in progress — work that's changing lives today and will continue to change lives for generations to come.
Clinical research in health care helps determine the safety and effectiveness of the medicines, devices and diagnostics that we use to treat disease and illness. Clinical trials — the studies led by researchers that help us understand disease processes and the effectiveness of a treatment within patient populations — are the key to our understanding if and how treatments work and, often, the fruition of visionary thinking. These rigorous studies help us gain insight into medical breakthroughs that are integral to the practice of medicine and saving and improving the quality of patients’ lives.
The hard work of hope
Clinical research and trials are often long and arduous processes that begin with a single idea or hypothesis, followed by long periods of research and testing. At Swedish, researchers are leading the way with groundbreaking studies in numerous specialties, including cancer, addiction medicine and COVID research, just to name a few.
Swedish is currently leading or partnering in over 630 clinical trials in 30 areas. Support for this work comes through philanthropy, public-private partnerships and federal funding.
“Clinical Trials Day is really important because it gives us the opportunity to highlight the amount of research we do right here at Swedish,” says Jennifer Hansberry, RN, BSN, executive director of the Swedish Center for Research and Innovation. “We are one of the largest clinical trials sites on the West Coast and in the Pacific Northwest, especially. We are also unusual in that very few organizations conduct the amount and type of research we do unless they are affiliated with a university. We are not, though we do partner with many organizations throughout the world in our work.”
Krish Patel, MD, director of Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapy, and his colleagues at the Swedish Cancer Institute’s Center for Blood Disorders and Cellular Therapy are focused on the hard work of bringing new hope to patients today while developing the treatments of tomorrow.
Dr. Patel and his team currently lead groundbreaking work developing treatments for blood cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma, as well as non-cancer blood diseases such as clotting and bleeding disorders.
The Swedish Cancer Institute’s active research program regularly contributes to the development of new treatments and is frequently selected as one of the few sites in the nation to test new therapies. These can lead to more treatment options for our patients, some of whom have exhausted all other alternatives.
These efforts were recently recognized at an annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology, where investigators from the Swedish Cancer Institute contributed to more than 30 presentations. Among them there were several groundbreaking studies offering new hope to many patients.
Krish Patel, MD, director, Hematologic Malignancies and Cellular Therapies, and his colleagues at Swedish Cancer Institute are leading groundbreaking work in treating blood cancers and other bleeding and clotting disorders.
Dr. Patel and his colleagues have been instrumental in the development of a new gene-engineered immunotherapy employing the body’s own natural killer cells. This novel treatment, called FT516, has been applied in a broad range of hard-to-treat lymphomas and is showing great promise when combined with existing immunotherapies.
The treatment was studied in B-cell lymphoma patients failing to respond to other treatments or who had recurrent disease after previous treatment. In preliminary results, 41 percent of participants experienced a complete response — no evidence of cancer — following treatment. The study continues to enroll patients and explore ways in which this therapy might more broadly be used to treat B-cell lymphomas where other therapies may not be effective or practically applied.
Swedish Cancer Institute was the only center in the Pacific Northwest and one of only six centers in the nation to take part in this pioneering research that holds the promise of making low toxicity, off-the-shelf cellular therapies readily available to patients with B-cell lymphoma.
“Swedish has a rich tradition of doing clinical trials, and clinical trials have been a mainstay of the Swedish Cancer Institute since its inception,” says Dr. Patel. “My group, specifically in hematology and blood disorders, is very focused on early-phase clinical trials. So we do a lot of clinical trials where medicines that we are using are given for the very first time in human beings. It takes a huge team to be able to do this: coordinators, clinical trials nurses, investigational pharmacists and teams that specialize in budgets and contracts. We have a tremendous support infrastructure here at Swedish that allows us to be really innovative.”
Vania Rudolf, M.D., an addiction medicine specialist at Swedish, is currently leading several studies around substance use disorder (SUD), work that is particularly critical in light of the current spike in overdose deaths and the opioid epidemic. Dr. Rudolf’s team is focused on numerous aspects of addiction and SUD, including treating birthing people with SUD and their babies and families.
Dr. Rudolf’s team is currently conducting a pair of clinical trials looking at the protocols engaged to help stabilize people with substance abuse disorder. One study compares medication formulations for opioid use disorder, with maternal and newborn outcomes tracked over the course of pregnancy and for one year postpartum. A second prospective study looks at dosing of medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD), such as Methadone and buprenorphine, for pregnant and birthing people.
“The Swedish Health System and the Addiction Recovery Services (ARS) team are the first to be granted permission by the Washington State Department of Health and several other state agencies to offer the choice of split Methadone dosing for birthing people and to affirm patient’s “choice and voice” in receiving treatment. This unique project will allow us to appreciate maternal, newborn and recovery outcomes in the setting of trauma-informed and evidence-based care,” says Dr. Rudolf.
In addition to their work in maternity, Dr. Rudolf’s team is also looking at ways to reduce substance abuse disorder among unhoused persons in the Puget Sound area. Throughout her passionate explanation of her clinical work, Dr. Rudolf stresses the importance of compassion and empathy in her work and clinical research broadly.
“It’s essential to be able to offer practical tools, whole person and no wrong door care that is compassionate and evidence-based care for all patients. We are grateful to Swedish and our strong research department for their mission to embrace patient-focused trials for vulnerable and marginalized people," says Dr. Rudolf.
“[Our work in clinical trials and research] is patient-focused and treatment-focused,” says Jennifer Hansberry. “We look for studies that provide us the opportunities to impact the lives of patients coming through our door today, as well as those who will come through our door in the future.”
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