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Discoveries, cures and education highlight UMHS plan

Cutting-edge clinical and basic research, the ways that discoveries will benefit the delivery of health care to patients, and major changes to the curriculum for tomorrow's doctors were areas of focus for the May 14 The Michigan Difference kickoff at the U-M Health System (UMHS).

Technology is both enlightening and challenging, Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs Dr. Robert Kelch told faculty, staff, alumni and friends of UMHS.

"You can see and experience the future of the University of Michigan Health System, and it is now," he said.

Emeritus Professor of Pathology Dr. Jerry Abrams talked about the accelerating pace of change and how it can be felt across the spectrum at UMHS. He and several colleagues highlighted areas of change:

• In medical education, young doctors-to-be face the prospect of a changing patient population that is aging, increasing in cultural and ethnic diversity, and generally more involved with their own health care. Associate Dean for Medical Education Dr. Joseph Fantone said students arrive motivated and ready for the new curriculum, launched in 2003, that emphasizes independent, complex decision-making skills in a setting that uses principles of adult learning and active learning methods;

• Doug Engel, chair of the Cell and Developmental Biology Department, said the University is taking a leadership role in stem cell research, and that work at the basic science level will help to unlock the secrets of these embryonic stem cells, resulting in cures for diabetes, blood disorders and cardiac diseases;

• Dr. James Ferrara, professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases, talked about translational research. "We are in the genomic and proteomic age and have cracked open the book of life," he said. Translational means moving research from a laboratory finding to a clinical application. He emphasized the need to identify and encourage young scientists in order to build momentum for faster and better discoveries;

• Teamwork and a move toward evidence-based medicine were themes of a presentation by Dr. Richard Prager, clinical professor of cardiology. Evidence-based medicine calls for patient treatment to be based on internal clinical expertise and outside evidence provided through research. The Cardiovascular Center, which currently is being built adjacent to University Hospital, exemplifies the new paradigm in medicine that brings diverse physicians and scientists together to determine the evidence for the best way to treat cardiovascular patients, Prager said.

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