Advancing the Science

Mayo Clinic Medical Science Blog – an eclectic collection of research- and research education-related stories: feature stories, mini news bites, learning opportunities, profiles and more from Mayo Clinic.

January 5, 2021

Looking back on 2020: A successful year of research at Mayo Clinic in Florida

By Advancing the Science contributor

At Mayo Clinic, Research and Education provide the basis for all we are able to do for patients today. Furthermore, they enable practice transformation as we seek to meet future patient needs. From new capabilities in cell therapy and immunotherapy, to advances in neurodegenerative diseases and studies of the virus that causes COVID-19, research at Mayo Clinic continued robustly in 2020. In this post, we highlight research activities at Mayo Clinic's Jacksonville, Florida campus.

MAYO CLINIC COVID-19 RESEARCH GAINS NATIONAL ATTENTION

The COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on health care institutions around the country in 2020. Mayo Clinic employed its strength in research to rapidly discover, translate and apply scientific advances that will defeat the deadly disease. These include clinical trials involving experimental therapies; disease registries and epidemiology studies; research on new disease biomarkers; basic lab research on the science of the virus that causes COVID-19; studies on the immunology of the disease; and artificial intelligence-based approaches to track and predict the spread of the disease. At Mayo Clinic in Florida, there are currently 65 COVID-19 studies, including four active COVID-19 treatment trials underway.

Mayo Clinic was the lead institution for the national Expanded Access Program (EAP) for Convalescent Plasma, which led to emergency authorization for the use of plasma to help critically ill patients hospitalized with COVID-19. The EAP was implemented at 2,731 sites; with nearly 13,000 participating physicians and nearly 106,000 patients enrolled. Researchers in Florida led several key aspects of the EAP and authored papers in several publications related to the use of convalescent plasma. Rickey Carter, Ph.D., vice chair, Department of Health Sciences Research at Mayo Clinic in Florida, led the statistical team responsible for analyses, integration of antibody data, and generation of data and figures to communicate the findings to U.S. government officials. DeLisa Fairweather, Ph.D., and Katelyn Bruno, Ph.D., led a team that built the data management system to capture all of the study information from across the country. 

Mayo Clinic’s COVID-19 Data Governance Task Force was established to oversee predictive modeling efforts during the pandemic. Dr. Rickey Carter, and Ben Pollock, Ph.D., are part of an expert team focused on building Bayesian models that utilize artificial intelligence to anticipate Mayo Clinic’s hospital and clinic staffing needs, personal protective equipment needs and community support based upon the COVID-19 trends observed in the region.

The Library of Congress selected Mayo Clinic's uscovidplasma.org website for the nation's historic Coronavirus Web Archive. Mayo Clinic developed this site as leader of the nation's Expanded Access Program for convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19. The library will periodically create an archival copy of uscovidplasma.org — essentially a snapshot in time — that researchers can navigate much like the original site. Access will be available onsite at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., as well as on the library's public access website around Fall 2021. Selection for the archive demonstrates the significant role of the Expanded Access Program in the global response to the pandemic, as well as Mayo Clinic’s leadership and capabilities.

CANCER RESEARCH AT MAYO CLINIC IN FLORIDA

Mayo Clinic Cancer Center is a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer center with locations in Florida, Arizona and Minnesota. The center’s culture of innovation and collaboration is driving research breakthroughs that are changing approaches to cancer prevention, screening and treatment and improving the lives of cancer survivors. Mayo Clinic Cancer Center successfully competed to renew its NCI funding in 2018, receiving a Cancer Center Support Grant award worth roughly $28.7 million over five years through 2024. Mayo Clinic in Florida continues to recruit world-class talent in cancer such as Hong Qin, M.D., Ph.D., who will lead the translational development of new immunotherapies for cancer. 

Mayo Clinic’s CAR-T Cell Therapy Program offers treatment options for several types of blood cancer. Mayo Clinic was one of the nationwide centers that took part in clinical trials that led to FDA approval of the therapy, and the first cancer center in Northeast Florida to offer it. CAR-T cell therapy is a type of immunotherapy that involves removing some of a patient’s white blood cells, including T cells, which are modified genetically to strengthen their ability to kill cancer. Mohamed Kharfan Dabaja, M.D., Hong Qin, M.D., Ph.D., and Hemant Murthy, M.D., are among several experts at Mayo Clinic in Florida leading these efforts. Currently, there are 15 clinical trials underway involving CAR-T therapy at Mayo Clinic in Florida.

Mayo Clinic is one of only a few medical research centers that have made significant investments in facilities where clinical-grade biotherapies can be manufactured onsite. The Center for Regenerative Medicine Advanced Biomanufacturing Facility will open this year in the new Discovery and Innovation Building on Mayo’s Florida campus. This facility will employ Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) for new patient-ready immunotherapies under strict sterile quality-control measures that meet FDA guidelines. Further expansion of production facilities are planned in 2021 to meet patient needs.

Set for completion in 2023 on the campus of Mayo Clinic in Florida, a new, integrated oncology facility will house North America’s first carbon ion therapy program for cancer treatment. Last year, Mayo Clinic announced an agreement in principle with Hitachi, Ltd., to bring the technology to the U.S. Carbon ion therapy offers state-of-the-art cancer treatment capable of destroying cancer cells resistant to traditional radiation therapy, and may benefit about 30,000 patients in this country with very difficult-to-treat cancers. Mayo Clinic researchers will conduct a scientific evaluation and analysis of the new technology, needed to obtain regulatory approval in the U.S. Proton beam therapy, which uses pencil beam scanning to deliver precise lower-dose radiotherapy, will also be offered in the new oncology facility. In addition, clinical trials using proton beam therapy are planned.

Sunil Krishnan, M.D., a radiation oncologist at Mayo Clinic in Florida, will advance research in radiation therapy using nanoparticles, chemotherapy, botanicals, immunotherapy and novel radiation techniques including particle therapy, minibeams and boron neutron capture therapy. His research will look at new treatment strategies, especially when carbon ion therapy is available at Mayo.

BREAKTHROUGHS IN NEURODEGENERATIVE DISEASES

Researchers at Mayo Clinic in Florida continue to make major advances in understanding neurological diseases. Mayo researchers in neurosciences and neurology are leaders in stroke and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and related diseases. In addition to internal (within Mayo Clinic) and external collaborations, researchers have access to the Mayo Clinic brain bank in Florida, which houses more than 5,000 specimens.

In a recently published paper in Science Translational Medicine, the research team of Tania Gendron, Ph.D., Leonard Petrucelli, Ph.D., and James Meschia, M.D., found that a protein in the blood may predict prognosis and recovery from stroke. The blood biomarker is a protein known as neurofilament light, which is released into cerebrospinal fluid and then into the blood. The amount of protein released is indicative of neuron injury in the brain, according to the researchers. The findings suggest blood levels of neurofilament light may predict the extent of brain injury or stroke severity in patients, and that clinical trials may help advance therapies for treatment. Ultimately, physicians may better plan rehabilitation needs for stroke patients. The research is featured in a story on the Mayo Clinic News Network.

Another paper published in Science Translational Medicine features the work of Mercedes Prudencio, Ph.D., Leonard Petrucelli, Ph.D., and Zbigniew Wszolek, M.D. The research team, and global collaborators, developed a test for a rare inherited neurodegenerative disease known as Machado-Joseph disease, or spinocerebellar ataxia type 3 (SCA3). Symptoms may resemble those of Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis. The team also clarified the role of a gene target associated with SCA3. The retrospective study is featured in an article on the Mayo Clinic News Network.

RESEARCH FUNDING

Mayo Clinic’s Florida research expenditures totaled $95.2 million in 2020 (October year-to-date), as illustrated in the Florida Research Funding graphic above. The 30% Mayo-based funding including philanthropy and diversified activities, and 70% funding from external sources included the State of Florida, Department of Defense and National Institutes of Health. This demonstrates 11.9% growth over 2019 during the same time period ($85.1 million in 2019, October year-to-date).

Florida's report is a snapshot of some of the research-related activities and advancements across Mayo Clinic. More information and highlights can be found at the links below, and throughout the Mayo Clinic websites, mayoclinic.org and mayo.edu.

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Tags: About, Alzheimer's disease, Ben Pollock, biomanufacturing, biomarkers, biostatistics, brain, cancer, CAR-T, carbon ion therapy, Center for Regenerative Medicine, chemotherapy, clinical research, clinical trials, COVID-19, DeLisa Fairweather, discovery research, epidemiology, FDA, Hemant Murthy, Hong Qin, immunotherapy, James Meschia, Katelyn Bruno, Leonard Petrucelli, Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, Mercedes Prudencio, Mohamed Kharfan Dabaja, multiple sclerosis, nanomedicine, National Cancer Institute, neurodegenerative disease, neurosciences, News, oncology, Parkinson's disease, plasma, Progress Updates, proton beam therapy, radiation therapy, rehabilitation, Rickey Carter, stroke, Sunil Krishnan, Tania Gendron, Zbigniew Wszolek

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