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MCRI new executive director wants to adopt research more quickly

Marshfield Clinic Research Institute’s new executive director, Amit Acharya, wants to shorten the time it takes for a good idea to go from the lab bench to the bedside.

Acharya was named to his new position in late July, taking on responsibility for research centers which specialize in a wide range of spheres: epidemiology, agriculture, genetics, oral health and much more. At any given time, over 450 active research trials and projects are being pursued by the institute.

He’s originally a dental surgeon who got his start in Bangladore, India, where he originally developed an interest in using information technology to achieve better outcomes and impacts for patients and their communities.

He moved to the United States about 17 years ago, earning a master’s degree in computer science, and has been in Wisconsin for the past eight years.

“I wanted to use tech as key driver for furthering the health care side of things, where research could play a big role,” he told WisBusiness.com.

As executive director of MCRI, Acharya says one of his principal goals is to improve the process of adopting unique ideas from research and putting them to use. He says it takes about 17 years from when a research idea is conceived to make it useful.

“That’s a long time for an idea to go through multiple hurdles,” he said. “Too long.”

Some research specializations of interest he mentioned include machine learning, artificial intelligence, big data sets, information science and predictive models for diabetes and oral cancer.

Big data, he said, is of particular importance for achieving the organization’s strategic goals. One way to shrink the timeline of getting a research idea to market is to examine databases of clinical information, hopefully gleaning some insight into how clinical trials can be “much more focused,” he said.

“Data science, big data will be one of the core areas,” he said. “Also, developing clinician support tools.”

Through electronic health records and other systems, he says doctors can make the most of the sliver of time they have with each individual patient.

“We can use tech to design physician support tools -- when they prescribe drugs, using data to suggest better treatments to achieve better outcomes,” he said.

Personalized medicine is a “huge area of work,” he said, especially with regards to vaccine safety -- “we don’t want to treat everyone the same.”

And in the next three to five years, Acharya says trauma research will be an important area to develop. To do so, MCRI will bring trauma surgeons and research scientists together to tackle problems side-by-side.

The most promising avenue of research to explore, he said, is the population health side.

“Clearly, population health will be a core area to focus on,” he said. “It’s extremely important to understand diseases, patterns within the community.”

With regards to population health, he says MCRI has “a lot of things we can offer.” He sees an opportunity to frame research as a service to the health system, and to reduce the cost of care for its patients.

“I want that to be the approach for the research institute -- for areas to provide direct benefit to our health system entities,” Acharya said. “Making ourselves valuable there will be helpful moving forward.”

In terms of funding, Acharya says the institute can’t “rely completely” on funding from the federal government. Though a chunk of MCRI’s support comes from the feds, some also comes from foundations, while still more comes from independent philanthropists -- a group he wants to focus more attention on moving forward.

Looking ahead, Acharya says he also sees opportunities for translational work, creating processes and systems that could be used for other organizations, such as mechanisms for licensing and for translating findings.

“We have a jewel right here in Wisconsin… The research we do is so unique, it attracts people from all over the world,” he said. “We are one of the few in the country to be able to do what we’re doing. I take pride in that.”

--By Alex Moe


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