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.


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Dec 18, 2019 · 10 scientific conversation starters for New Year's Eve

Never know what to say at New Year’s Eve parties? The Advancing the Science blog is here to help with this top-10 recap of our most popular medical research stories from 2019.

Everyone loves talking about their health.
So keep this list queued up on your phone for quick reference and you’ll never
run out of interesting scientific anecdotes. 

#1 Buh-bye, breast cancer

Keith Knutson, Ph.D.

Can breast cancer be prevented with a vaccine? Mayo Clinic immunology researcher Keith Knutson, Ph.D, thinks so. And he thinks it will happen during his lifetime. He also thinks it will be possible to prevent breast cancer from recurring by stimulating the immune system.


#2 Zooming in on colon polyps

colonoscopy scope camera view

Gastroenterologists agree that removing a colorectal polyp is an important step in preventing colon cancer. But removing them can be tricky if they’re large and flat. A new minimally invasive approach, called endoscopic mucosal resection, makes it possible to remove large polyps without surgery.


#3 The sky’s the limit

Jared Ausnehmer

In the first-ever clinical trial of its kind, Jared Ausnehmer had stem cells from his own bone marrow injected into his heart to treat hypoplastic left heart syndrome. The therapy surpassed all expectations. Two months later, he was cleared to return to normal life and his favorite sport, basketball. 


#4 Hospice research aims to understand process of dying, help loved ones with end-of-life care

Man sits with his elderly father's head on his shoulder

Death, ultimately, is inevitable. But for patients at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato’s Hospice Program, the process of dying is becoming more bearable for themselves and their families as a result of research studies aimed at understanding more.

“Even though it’s the end of life, it’s incredibly important for patients to have closure and resolution, and feel good about their life’s story and what they’re leaving with other people,” says Greg Kutcher, M.D. “We need to better understand how to do that.”

Read more.

#5 Chemo first for better outcomes in bile duct cancer

a medical illustration of bile duct cancer

Oncology patients usually receive chemotherapy along with surgery to treat bile duct cancer. However, recently Mayo Clinic researchers found that patients who receive chemotherapy before surgery to remove their cancer were more likely to live longer than patients who received chemotherapy after surgery.

Read more.

#6 Researchers look at possible link between low vitamin B12 and Parkinson’s symptoms

stock photo of elderly woman with intergenerational family members around her

Low vitamin B12 levels can worsen some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. While it’s not clear why, there may be a relationship between B12 and a neurochemical that’s believed to be key to cognition and postural control.

Read more.

#7 McArdle’s sign, long overlooked, is an indicator of multiple sclerosis

Dr. Weinshenker works with a patient to measure finger strength

McArdle’s sign is a distinctive muscle weakness that affects patients with spinal cord disease and researchers are looking at it as a possible indicator of multiple sclerosis. The namesake of the “sign,” M.J. McArdle, was a professor of neurology in London, and one of his patients with advanced multiple sclerosis needed to extend his neck and tip his head back to maintain a steady gait.

Read more.

#8 Why doctors might need to go back to 6th grade

stock photo of nurse meeting with elderly woman and her grandson

When patients are feeling tired and sick, it can be difficult to understand discharge instructions, particularly when they’re written in complicated medical language. Mayo researchers are working to change that by studying ways to improve readability and comprehension through the use of simpler language and other teaching tools.

Read more.

#9 Business innovation with an eye on improving vision

medical illustration of macular degeneration

If the eyes are the window to the world, Timothy Olsen, M.D. is building high performance window frames. The opthalmologist has set his sights on developing and bringing to market a first-of-its-kind implantable device for treating age-related macular degeneration.

Read more.

#10 Bone marrow stem cells stall out in chronic lymphocytic leukemia

traffic stopped in snow storm

For patients who have chronic lymphocytic leukemia, fighting off a serious infection can be difficult and often is just not possible. And a team of Mayo researchers is starting to find out why. They hope that by understanding how bone marrow function is impaired in chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients, they can develop unique strategies to boost bone marrow function or find alternate treatments that do not block or modify marrow function.

Read more.

Nov 1, 2019 · A 'gut-feeling' for high-risk, high-reward research

Dr. Beyder holds a lab notebook, posing in his lab
Arthur Beyder, M.D., Ph.D.

Arthur Beyder, M.D., Ph.D., runs a research laboratory at Mayo Clinic focused on examining the molecular mechanisms of gastrointestinal function and dysfunction in diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome. His goal is to discover better ways to diagnose and treat these conditions, including individualized treatment options.

“These conditions affect 10-15 percent of Americans, and it’s amazing how much we still have to learn about the molecular mechanisms of these diseases,” says Dr. Beyder. 

Dr. Beyder believes that the “high risk, high reward” approach may be the best way to go when it comes to tackling this problem. He recently received a 2019 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award,  honoring his work as an “exceptionally creative early career investigator,” an award given to support the researchers who pursue high risk, high reward research.

What is
high-risk, high-reward research?

lab equipment
Using the patch-clamp technique to study the mechanical and electrical properties of sensory cells.

High-risk, high-reward research is innovative research that pushes the boundaries of science and has the potential for broad impact.

“Incremental questions lead to incremental progress,” says Dr. Beyder. “High-risk questions allow us to break away to view the problems in a completely different light or from a different perspective. These approaches allow us to make big leaps forward and often bring true transformation in science and medicine.”

“At Mayo Clinic, we’re focused on turning scientific discoveries into treatments quickly, so patients can benefit as soon as possible,” says Gianrico Farrugia, M.D., president and CEO of Mayo Clinic, and one of Dr. Beyder’s mentors. “To achieve that, we need to think big, move fast, and take well-calculated risks. Researchers like Dr. Beyder are helping advance a new mindset that will accelerate innovation.”

Does the gut
have a sense of touch?

Dr. Beyder wants to get to the bottom of “gut feelings.” These gut feelings may be disrupted and manifest as gastric discomfort, such as indigestion. Dr. Beyder’s research has shown that the cells involved in producing these sensations have a lot in common with the way the skin feels the sensation of touch. 

“Mechanical sensors in the gut that release serotonin, which regulates important aspects of digestion, are very similar to the mechanical sensors the skin to that sense touch,” says Dr. Beyder. The next question he wants to answer is the focus of the New Innovator Award – “Does the gut have a sense of touch?”

To answer this question, Dr. Beyder and his team are employing an unusual technique. Rather than observing the function of the mechanosensors in-situ, exerting stimulus on the system and waiting to observe the physiological response, he and his team are reconstructing the system from the ground-up in the lab.

A colorful image of the gut

  1. First, the researchers examine each component of the mechanosensory circuit separately.
  2. Next, they rebuild the circuit piece-by-piece in the lab and see how all the components work together.

“The issue with the ‘in-situ’ approach is that only the stimulus and the response are visible to the researcher, and no other steps in between are visible,” says Dr. Beyder. “What’s innovative about our approach is that it allows researchers to see and understand all those steps. We’re looking at the physiology of the gut from a completely new angle.”

No guts, no

“We are poised to deeply understand the function of the mechanosensory circuits in the gut,” says Dr. Beyder, “and we would not be able to get to this point without pushing the envelope with our science, trying approaches not previously explored in our field.”

Beyder hopes his research will point the way to better techniques for
diagnosing and treating gastrointestinal disorders. This includes better and
more precise testing methods, as well as more targeted therapies.

is the best in world in the field of gastroenterology,” says Dr. Beyder.
“I’m proud and humbled to be a part of this group.” He anticipates
that the support he is receiving from the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award
will allow his study team to accelerate their research. 

Ultimately, the goal
of his team’s high-risk, high-reward approach is to advance medical science,
ensuring that patients with functional gastrointestinal diseases quickly reap
the benefits of new treatments.

Related posts:

Sep 19, 2019 · Biostatistician keeps Mayo research ship-shape

Boats in a marina in Jacksonville, FL
Photo credit Paul Brennan
Marina, Jacksonville, Florida. Photo credit: Paul Brennan.

I met Rickey Carter, Ph.D., in his glass-walled office on the Mayo Clinic Florida campus in June. From his desk, he can look out over the Health Sciences Research Department: desks and cubicles in orderly rows, like boats in a marina and humming with activity—activity he helps promote as vice chair of the Department of Health Sciences Research and the director of Mayo’s Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Research Design program.

Dr. Carter is like a ship’s navigator, but for research. He and his team in the Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Research Design program help investigators plot promising courses through uncharted waters. On occasion, the team helps rescue researchers trapped in data analysis doldrums.

“It’s all about growing Mayo research and keeping it moving forward,” says Dr. Carter.

Dr. Carter arrived at Mayo Clinic in 2009 with a mission: to help clinicians and scientists use the power of their research data to solve real-world problems for patients. He’s very passionate about his role as a biostatistics navigator and mentor. He’s also excited about the promise of the data-driven future of medicine. I sat down with him to ask for the scuttlebutt.

Your background is in math and statistics. What made you decide to take a leap into medical research?

Rickey Carter, as an undergraduate at Winthrop University. On the desk is a notebook, a binder, a textbook, and a calculator.
Rickey Carter as a student at Winthrop University, 1996. The calculator shown in the photo still sits on Dr. Carter’s desk and he uses it every day. Photo used with permission from Winthrop University

I’ve seesawed between medicine and math my whole life. Early in life, I wanted to be a pediatrician. Then in high school and later in college I got interested in math. I thought about becoming a math teacher and I looked seriously at actuarial sciences. I found my calling when I met a statistics professor who was also trained in biostatistics. He had worked in the field before stepping back into teaching and he brought real life examples to the classroom: stories about medicine and math that dealt with tangible problems. That inspired me and I went to graduate school to study biostatistics. For me, it’s the right balance of math and medicine.

What brought you to
Mayo Clinic and what keeps you here?

I was engaged in research at the Medical University of South Carolina in my hometown of Charleston and I was involved in helping them write their first Clinical and Translational Science Award grant.  I was looking to take the next step in my career when I saw an ad from Mayo Clinic for a biostatistics director for its newly funded Clinical and Translational Science Award program. I applied immediately.

At the Medical University of South Carolina, I helped run a “collaboration unit” and was a champion for team science. I brought these ideas with me to Mayo and now still use them to help shape the services provided by Mayo’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCaTS)

Mayo’s values are what make me happy to work here. A lot of statisticians work in a theoretical space. In my work at Mayo, I know that the work I do will lead to direct patient impact.

What is your current research interest?

Dr. Carter contributed to a recent Mayo Clinic study, which showed that artificial intelligence can detect asymptomatic left ventricular dysfunction, a precursor to heart failure.

Like many people at Mayo, it’s artificial intelligence (AI). For me, AI blends my interests in computation, statistics and medicine. The data in medicine are complex and AI approaches can help us chart a better course in medicine, opening up new data and insights.

Right now I’m involved in revisiting classical solutions in medical science and looking at the evidence that has been accumulated over time. AI gives us access to different computational tools that may help us better understand complex human processes that have previously resulted in conflicting medical evidence.

Tell me about the Biostatistics, Epidemiology
and Research Design program.

The Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Research Design program is a consulting service available to anyone involved in research at Mayo Clinic. We teach investigators how to make the best use of biostatistics in designing, conducting, and analyzing research. Medical data are complex. We show people how to make the most meaningful use of their data in order to advance medicine.

During a typical consult, a biostatistician will sit down with a researcher to review their protocol or manuscript in order to better understand the underlying research question. The program can provide feedback on study aims and design, data management strategies, and data analysis and interpretation. In addition, we can offer general guidance on statistical methods, software, and advanced computational tools. We don’t provide data analysis services—we don’t steer the boat for you. We advise and we enable investigators to perform many routine analyses themselves. When necessary, we help researchers make connections to resources that can help with the more complex analyses.

The Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Research Design program recently expanded its services in Florida by partnering with the Florida Clinical Practice Committee and Research Committee to start a pilot program called the Research Accelerator for Clinicians Engaged in Research. Can you tell me more about it?

The Research Accelerator for Clinicians Engaged in Research, sometimes unofficially referred to as “RACER,” is a mentored career development program that helps match early-career clinicians with the resources they need to start pursuing research and prepare to apply for their first extramural grant.  

We started this program because we want to grow research in Florida. Right now, Mayo Clinic in Florida has 13% of its clinicians engaged in research, which is about half the percentage they have Rochester and Arizona. We want to change that and programs like this will help us get there. Our vision is that one day we’ll engage our clinicians with a program like RACER the minute they come to Mayo. Get them started competing for one of these awards right away, with research as a part of their career development.

Why is it important
to provide access to programs like the Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Research
Design program and the Research Accelerator?

Rickey Carter poses outdoors
Rickey Carter, Ph.D.

Everything we’re doing is about advancing research. We accomplish that by making research more accessible and giving our staff the skills to pursue it.  Mayo wants its staff to be curious and to allow that curiosity to become a vital part of their careers. We know from experience that this sort of activity leads to finding solutions for unmet patient needs. Delivering hope and healing for patients—that’s “true north” for me, and for all of us here at Mayo Clinic.


Aug 27, 2019 · Community voices guide use of biobank samples in research

Community advisory board members talk to a researcher in a lab
Community Advisory Board members interact with a Mayo researcher while attending a Mayo Clinic biobank open house in Rochester, Minnesota.

Mayo Clinic supports biobanks—large collections of patient biological samples—near each of its three campuses in Arizona, Florida, and Minnesota, with the goal of supporting research to broaden the understanding of health and disease.  Paired with each biobank, Mayo fields a community advisory board (CAB), whose members are recruited from the local community to help guide the direction and conduct of research.

“Each sample in the biobank represents a person from our local community,” says Barry Hall, a member of the Florida CAB. The board’s job is to safeguard those samples: to make sure they’re used in research that honors the donor’s contribution, even though the person who donated their samples may never be able to see or benefit from the results.

Community advisory board members also want to ensure that research using biobank resources aligns with the needs of the community.  In Phoenix, Mayo Clinic collaborates with Mountain Park Health System and Arizona State University to host a CAB that works with the Sangre Por Salud (Spanish for Blood for Health) Biobank. This biobank was created to expand precision medicine research to the Latino community, a population that is underrepresented in biobanks and in research. “Every community is different, and what they need from research is different too,” says Crystal Gonzalez, community advisory board coordinator for Sangre Por Salud.

In addition, community advisory board members ground research in the values of the community, helping investigators understand how their work may be perceived from the outside. “I think researchers are so passionate about curing disease that they sometimes have blinders on,” says Kathryn Hollenhorst, a member of Mayo’s community advisory board in Minnesota. “I feel it is our responsibility to make sure they take the blinders off and be challenged to see things from a lay person’s perspective.”

A mutually-beneficial arrangement

Members of the Sangre Por Salud biobank
Sangre por Salud Biobank Community Advisory Board, 2014, Image from Mountain Park’s Sangre Por Salud CAB video on YouTube.

The community advisory boards in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota play a critical role in Mayo’s individualized medicine research, says Richard Sharp, Ph.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine Bioethics Program. “Their perspectives are invaluable in developing individualized medicine approaches that will one day benefit the community.”

Suzette Bielinski, Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic epidemiology researcher, agrees. She recently worked with the Mayo community advisory board in Minnesota to review her study’s recruitment brochure and consent document. She says the CAB’s feedback was “invaluable, because it made the study materials easier to understand and more accessible to the general public.”

Not all researchers who use Mayo’s biobanks choose to engage
with the community advisory board. Dr. Bielinksi considers that a missed
opportunity.  “Bottom line,” she says, “collaboration
with the community advisory board enhances my research.”

Community advisory board members also benefit from the opportunity to take part in research.  The more they participate, the more knowledgeable they become about the fields of genomics and individualized medicine. “Members are ideal partners and advocates for Mayo investigators,” says Karen Meagher, Ph.D., associate director of public engagement, Mayo Clinic Bioethics Research Program.  “They help communicate the value of the research back to the community.”

Mayo Clinic
Biobank Community Advisory Boards

Rochester, Minnesota:  The Minnesota community advisory board works with a wide range of researchers and its members draw on their history of engagement, which dates back to helping the biobank get started in 2007. Most of the current collection has been donated by Mayo Clinic patients.  In addition to its research advisory role, the community advisory board is also actively engaged in community outreach. In 2016, they joined the Rochester Public Library to develop the Bioethics at the Cinema events, a movie screening and discussion series free and open to the public, designed to engage the community in conversations about important bioethics issues in research and clinical care.

Florida CAB members post for a photo
Northeast Florida Biobank Community Advisory Board, 2015.

Northeast Florida: The Florida community advisory board meets at Mayo’s campus in Jacksonville, but the group draws its members from throughout northeastern Florida. Jacksonville has a large and diverse population, with a significant number of retirees, which is reflected in the membership of the board and in the donors to the biobank. Jacksonville also has a large geographic footprint and is home to many other medical institutions. The community advisory board is working to have membership reflect how patients in the area often move in and out of these different health systems.

Phoenix, Arizona:  The Arizona community advisory board works with Sangre por Salud (blood for health), a biobank collaboratively managed by Mountain Park Health Center, Arizona State University, and Mayo Clinic. The biobank was created to expand precision medicine research the local Latino community.  Research conducted with biological samples from Sangre por Salud focuses on health issues specific to this population; in particular, chronic health conditions, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes that disproportionately impact the Latino community.  Community members who donate materials to the biobank are patients at Mountain Park Health Center, a Federally-Qualified Health Center that provides comprehensive health care to underserved populations.


This article originally appeared on Mayo’s Individualized Medicine blog.

May 21, 2019 · A pregnant pause

In many states, women can expect pregnancy to restrict their advance directives.

Pregnant woman lying in bed receives care from a female doctor and a female nurse.

Search online for what
to do when getting ready for baby and you’ll find endless checklists of
essentials every parent needs, from onesies and diapers to high tech strollers
and baby monitors. The best lists also mention an important legal document that
expectant parents should consider completing before baby arrives: an advance
outlining the mother’s health care wishes should she become
unable to make decisions or speak for herself.

However, according to a report recently published by researchers
at Mayo Clinic and other institutions
in the Journal of the American
Medical Association (JAMA),
what expectant parents often don’t realize – and
what isn’t disclosed, even on most advance directive forms—is that the majority
of U.S. states have laws on the books that restrict or invalidate a pregnant
woman’s advance directive.

These states put a “pause” on these patients’ ability to
control their health care. And they often do not communicate this fact this to
patients, who fill out these forms in good faith.

Erin DeMartino poses, wearing a light blue jacket and a scarf.
Erin DeMartino, M.D.

The purpose of advance directives

Life can change in an instant, and even young adults can face a serious medical condition.  “When you become pregnant, that’s a good time to start looking ahead and thinking about an advance directive,“ says Erin DeMartino, M.D., a pulmonary and critical care physician at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Rochester and first author of the report published in JAMA.

Advance directives safeguard patient autonomy and control
over life-and-death medical decisions that are difficult to foresee. They allow
a patient to name a person who can make health care decisions on their behalf.
They also give a patient the opportunity to state specific medical treatments
they do or do not want.

“It’s ironic, “says Dr. DeMartino, “that when young women are
faced with perhaps their first major medical situation—pregnancy and childbirth—their
control of their own health destiny is often taken away by the State. And
because this fact is usually not communicated on the official state advance
directive documents, patients might not even know it.”

The ethical way forward requires increased transparency

Laws governing life-and-death decisions for pregnant mothers
vary widely state-by-state. According to the report published in JAMA, 38
states have laws that identify pregnancy as a condition that affects decisions
for incapacitated women. 30 of these states restrict a woman’s or her
surrogate’s choice regarding withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining
treatment and 25 states invalidate a woman’s advance directive.  Only 11 states disclose those restrictions on
their advance directive documents.

Map showing limitations on decision making by state.

In this situation, transparency is essential, says
Richard Sharp, Ph.D.
, director of the
Mayo Clinic Biomedical Ethics Research Program.
Patients should always be
informed about potential situations that might prompt an advance directive to
be restricted or temporarily revoked. “These important details should be
spelled out in the forms that patients sign and in the educational materials
that are often distributed to patients when they sign an advance directive,”
says Dr. Sharp.

Map showing communication of restrictions by state

“It’s of fundamental importance that women understand what
they’re signing, “agrees Dr. DeMartino. “If you’re using an advance directive,
there should be no surprises when it comes to making your health care wishes
known or in determining if those wishes will be carried out.” 

Learn more

Apr 4, 2019 · The lowdown with Dr. Bharucha: Gastroenterology researcher and clinical trials guru

Adil Bharucha, M.B.B.S., M.D.

For Adil Bharucha, M.B.B.S., M.D., research is a passion nurtured over time. A passion, he says, that came to him, not in a dazzling “a-ha moment,” but slowly, through the encouragement of mentors, the exhilarating feeling of discovery, and the compassion he felt for his patients—“through osmosis,” he says.

He began his medical studies at University of Bombay, in India and then came to the United States, where he accepted a residency, then a fellowship, in gastroenterology at Mayo Clinic, and later joined the staff.

Now, 27 years and more than 200 research papers later, he is director of the Office of Clinical Trials, in the Mayo Clinic Center for Clinical and Translational Science.  Under his leadership, the Office of Clinical Trials works with study teams and sponsors to facilitate clinical trials that accelerate the translation of medical discoveries into patient care.

Dr. Bharucha looks back on his career, the opportunities he has been given and the good work he has accomplished, and feels incredibly fortunate. “I did not dream I would have the opportunities I do today,” he says. “I’ve worked hard, but a lot of it feels like serendipity to me. I was at the right place at the right time.”

He was also interested in an area of research—having to do with the digestive system, the intestines, the bowels—which, at the time, wasn’t popular with other scientists. “There was urgent patient need but, frankly, not a lot of enthusiasm from researchers,” he says.  “I saw that as an opportunity to make a difference.”

Mayo Clinic Public Affairs recently sat down with Dr. Bharucha to learn more about his zeal for gastroenterology research and to find out what drives his keen interest in optimizing the conduct of clinical trials

A portable device, invented by Dr. Bharucha and a Mayo colleague, for evaluating patients with constipation or fecal insentience. In the past, these tests were usually performed in specialized laboratories. With this device, the tests can be performed at the bedside, enhancing efficiency and patient satisfaction. The product has been licensed to Medspira, Inc.

How did you become interested in researching gastroenterology?

I became interested in gastroenterology, in part, because of an early interest in neurons. Did you know that the gastrointestinal tract has more neurons than the spinal cord?

When I came to Mayo Clinic as a resident, my advisor, Dr. Gores, saw my passion and my desire to conduct mechanistically-based clinical research studies and suggested I work with Dr. Camilleri, an expert in gastrointestinal motility disorders, such as dyspepsia (indigestion), gastroparesis, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic constipation, and fecal incontinence.

“Doing research has made me a better doctor.”
— Adil Bharucha, M.B.B.S., M.D.

These are some of the most common health conditions, but they’re poorly understood and treatment options are limited.  There’s a lot of patient need in this area, but unfortunately, at the time, there were not a lot of researchers who wanted to pursue these topics. That piqued my interest. I knew I had an opportunity to contribute to finding solutions for patients.

Why do you think it’s important for a doctor to be involved in both patient care and research?

Doing research has made me a better doctor. 

A lot of patients come to Mayo Clinic because they know that doctors, like me, are also involved in researching their conditions. Patients are relieved to hear their symptoms can be explained and that I’m engaged in the search for answers.

In addition, my involvement in research trains my brain to think about problems from many different angles. It often helps me identify out-of-the-box solutions for patients.

Left to right: Gregory Gores, M.D., Kinney Executive Dean for Research; Gianrico Farrugia, M.D., president and CEO; Henry Schultz, , M.D.; Sidney Phillips, M.D. (left); Michael Camilleri, M.D. (right), accepting a teacher of the year award; Rolf Hubmayr, M.D.; Joseph Szurszewski, M.D.

What role have mentors played in your career?

Mentors have played key roles at almost every turning point in my career.

  • I interviewed for my second year residency at Mayo with Dr. Schultz, who embodies the very best of Mayo. I was start-struck and I was convinced I wanted to come here to work.
  • Early on in my career at Mayo, Dr. Camilleri, Dr. Phillips, and Dr. Hubmayr encouraged me to pursue research and helped guide my choices since I didn’t have a formal plan.
  • I received considerable support from mentors when I applied for and received my first National Institutes of Health grants. Receiving those grants provided critical strategic direction for my career, giving me opportunities to focus on epidemiology and the mechanisms of pelvic floor disorders.
  • It was a mentor who convinced me to focus my research on anorectal dysfunctions. I recall vividly the day Dr. Phillips took me aside at a formal dinner to talk me into it. He could be very persuasive.
  • More recently, under Dr. Szurszewski’s and Dr. Farrugia’s leadership, I have been involved in an NIH sponsored study of how diabetes mellitus affects the gastrointestinal tract.

All along the way, mentors have helped guide my choices and have helped make me a better doctor and researcher. They’ve also prepared me for my current leadership position as director of the Office of Clinical Trials.

What is the role of the Office of Clinical Trials in research at Mayo Clinic?

The Office of Clinical Trials supports the Mayo Clinic research priority of strengthening clinical trials by helping Mayo Clinic attract and conduct high-impact trials that bring hope and solutions to patients.

Researchers often encounter unanticipated challenges and roadblocks as they try to get clinical trials activated and off the ground. The office provides resources and support to blast through those roadblocks, as well as expert guidance to keep issues from arising in the first place.  It’s the support I remember getting from my research mentors, but on a much larger scale. We’ve created a whole office focused on this specialized support that is set up to assist researchers across Mayo Clinic.

Why do you think optimizing clinical trials is so important?

Patients are waiting and clinicians are eager to do more amidst their hectic schedules. That’s what motivates me in my leadership of the Office of Clinical Trials. Clinical trials bridge the gap between research and patient care. If the office can help optimize this process, we’ll be able help more patients.

At Mayo Clinic, the research of today is the clinical practice of tomorrow. Many patients come to Mayo because of the opportunity to receive cutting-edge therapy afforded by clinical trials. They come here looking for help they can’t get anywhere else.

Optimizing clinical trials is also good for physicians and scientists. They’re able to partake in research that not only satisfies their intellectual curiosity, but that also is more likely to have an impact for patients.

Can you provide an example of an important challenge that the Office of Clinical Trials has helped to resolve?

When I began this assignment as director of the Office of Clinical Trials, one of our first priorities was to reduce the amount of time required to activate clinical trials. At the time, the average time required to activate at trial was 220 days. We made it our goal to shorten this time frame.

Thanks to the remarkable collaboration of the various Mayo business units involved, we’ve shaved that 220 day activation time down to just 65 days. Four years and nearly 700 clinical trials later, this process has saved Mayo Clinic over 300 years in valuable research time.

Adil Bharucha, M.B.B.S., M.D.

What’s next for the Office of Clinical Trials?

Here are four things that are top-of-mind for me:

  1. We need to make it easier to bring clinical trials to all patients who may benefit from them. This means finding better ways to identify and connect with potentially-eligible patients.
  2. We should continue to take advantage of technology to gather data more effectively and efficiently, and to use that data to inform our work. This could help us make important decisions, such as selecting which trials should be activated at Mayo Clinic.
  3. We need to shorten the amount of time between when a research protocol is first submitted and when a funding proposal is subsequently submitted. Anything we can do to remove “waiting time” from clinical trials processes will help in our mission to transform scientific discoveries into solutions for patients.
  4. I’d like to see us develop an integrated protocol management system for clinical trials. This would make it easier for study teams to navigate the process of conducting trials.

There is so much to do.  If the office can accomplish these goals, we’ll be able to provide better help to study teams and, through them, better help for the patients who need us.

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Mar 27, 2019 · 'Bridge building specialists' keep science moving forward

Discovery, translation, application spectrum

Accelerating the hand-off between discovery and translation

“Physicians and researchers often have new ideas for medical devices, drugs, biologics, or other products that they want to deliver to patients, but they don’t know how to bring those discoveries to life,” says Jeff Anderson, Ph.D., Mayo Clinic Office of Translation to Practice.  Taking the next steps in product development may require access to additional resources or know-how. That’s the critical moment where the Mayo Clinic Office of Translation to Practice can step in to help bridge the gap.

The Office of Translation to Practice recently shared what it has learned in its first three years—best practices, innovations, and early successes—in a paper published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Jeff Anderson, Bharath Wootla and Nathan Wiederman pose in the Gonda Building lobby.

Jeff Anderson, Ph.D.: Patent agent and manager of OTP strategic alliances. Doctorate in physical chemistry. Bharath Wootla, Ph.D.: Specialty in biopharma product development. Doctorate in biochemistry. Nathan Wiedenman, Ph.D.: Specialty in medical device product development. Doctorate in mechanical engineering.

Connecting researchers to the help they didn’t know they needed

The Office of Translation to Practice specializes in helping Mayo researchers assemble the best possible scientific teams to facilitate product development.

Office staff members are “bridge building specialists”—with expertise in business, law, sales and other areas—that makes them uniquely suited to help researchers find resources and assemble the teams that will help them move effectively between medicine and the marketplace.






Scienist peering closely at beakers, wearing gown, mask, gloves, goggles.

Sanford Burnham Prebys offers Mayo researchers access to sophisticated drug screening capabilities, vast drug libraries, and medical chemistry expertise.

A vetted portfolio of strategic collaborators

The Office of Translation to Practice has established a variety of strategic alliances with organizations outside the walls of Mayo Clinic, providing access to specialized resources and expertise.

The first of these strategic collaborations was a drug development research agreement established with Sanford Burnham Prebys (SBP) Medical Discovery Institute in 2012. Together, SBP and Mayo scientists have applied for and received numerous grants, resulting in a nearly six-fold return on investment.


Qrativ logo

Guidance from Translation Boards has already led to the product development success, including the formation of startup companies. One such company is Qrativ, a collaboration between Mayo Clinic and an analytics company called ‘nference’ that focuses on identifying the best clinical indications for new drugs.

Cross-functional translational advisory boards

Product development sometimes fails due to inadequate safety or toxicity assessment, incorrect patient populations selected for study, inappropriate study endpoints, and flaws in the design and implementation of clinical trials.

To help researchers avoid these pitfalls, Office of Translation to Practice offers researchers the opportunity to receive feedback and guidance from Translation Boards composed of physicians and scientists from a wide variety of specialties. In addition, the Boards are able to easily pull in additional experts from inside or outside Mayo Clinic, as needed.

Barry Borlaug poses wearing a white coat and a stethescope.

A standout example of the support offered by project-specific management teams is seen in the work of Barry Borlaug, M.D., a Mayo Clinic cardiologist. With the help of specialists identified by the Office of Translation to Practice, Dr. Borlaug prototyped and tested new tools and procedures to treat a previously-untreatable type of heart failure. Dr. Borlaug’s research and product development is ongoing, but these activities have significantly de-risked the product.

Project-specific management teams

As products move along the developmental pathway, the needs of research teams evolve.  At different points along the journey, a research team may need access to experts in specific areas,  such as regulatory affairs, reimbursement strategy, or business intelligence.

When these needs arise, the Office of Translation to Practice stands ready to supply the expertise, drawn from inside and outside Mayo Clinic.

In addition, the Office of Translation to Practice provides project management advice to help teams reach milestone goals.







Mayo Clinic Ventures team at a ribbon cutting ceremony

“No success of the Office of Translation to Practice would be possible without the strong partnership that exists between the Office and Mayo Clinic Ventures.”
– Jeff Anderson, Ph.D., Office of Translation to Practice

Working hand-in-hand with Mayo’s technology transfer office

The Office of Translation to Practice partners with Mayo Clinic Ventures on a continual basis as discoveries are translated into treatments with commercial potential.

Mayo Clinic Ventures provides legal and commercial expertise, negotiating and managing all contracts and agreements.  The Office of Translation to Practice focuses on scientific strategy, creation and management of partnerships, and project execution.






”Discovery, product development, and the dissemination of knowledge and tools are deeply rooted in the ethos of Mayo Clinic, beginning with Drs. Charles and William Mayo. In today’s more complex scientific and regulatory environment, those tasks have become increasingly difficult. OTP’s mission is to simplify and provide navigation support for Mayo investigators that enables product development for the benefit of our patients.”
– Andrew Badley, M.D., director of the Office of Translational to Practice

Looking to the future

As the Office of Translation to Practice enters its third year of existence, more and more Mayo Clinic researchers are reaching out, eager for specialized assistance to translate their discoveries into products that will meet the unmet needs of patients


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Mar 19, 2019 · Reaching the next generation of healers and researchers through an enhanced digital presence

Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science recently launched a redesigned website for prospective students and trainees. This was the most significant work ever completed for the college’s public presence.

“Our goal is to attract the most talented and diverse learners, both regionally and nationally. Our website is our first chance — and sometimes our only chance — to make a strong impression as they explore and compare programs,” says Fredric Meyer, M.D., Waugh Executive Dean for Education.

Designers put themselves in the students’ shoes

The project team built the site from the ground up based on extensive user research about what prospective students expect when visiting a college or university website.

By putting themselves in the shoes of program applicants, the project team designed the new website to focus on key tasks and to answer common questions:

  1. Academics – What programs do you offer?
  2. Admissions – How do I apply? Can I get in?
  3. Tuition and aid – How much will it cost?
  4. Culture and experience – What is campus and community life like?

“The user experience and overall simplicity were big points of emphasis for us,” says Matthew Sluzinski, director of the Education Web Strategy and Services team and project sponsor. Even though Mayo’s college is complex—with five schools, 400 programs and three unique campuses—the website doesn’t have to be.

Telling the college’s story through content and design

The project team also focused on creating a welcoming and engaging experience for prospective students. The new site is “visual first,” featuring hundreds of images and videos that highlight the role students can play in patient care and research. In addition, the website highlights the learner experience by incorporating program outcomes and testimonials, including a warm and welcoming message from the college dean, Dr. Meyer.

“Our goal was to tell a compelling story,” says Amy White, a digital content specialist on the project team. “To allow users to better identify with the program. To help them imagine themselves on campus, in our community, as part of a future story.”

“We also wanted to promote health care career exploration and discovery,” says Matthew. “Prospective students are often familiar with doctors and nurses, but may not be aware of the vast array of other rewarding roles in patient care and research.” The new website includes a career library where students can browse options for applying their passion for healing or research, and can find out how to apply to Mayo Clinic programs in those fields.

“With this new website,” says Dr. Meyer, “we really capture the energy and uniqueness of the Mayo educational experience and our campuses, while making it easier to discover everything we have to offer.”


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