Prominent among the Foundation's commitments in health are grants for research on Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and other devastating neurodegenerative conditions. While much research has approached individual neurodegenerative diseases in isolation from one another, a growing body of evidence has identified significant commonalities among them. Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh conceived of an institute that would advance the study and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases by fostering collaboration between researchers and clinicians across the full range of such conditions. The Foundation has committed over $5.6 million to support the realization of this vision in the form of the Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases (PIND). This is by far the Foundation's largest commitment in any of its program areas. PIND now occupies a floor of the University of Pittsburgh's Biomedical Science Tower 3 (BST 3), which houses 300,000 square feet of laboratory space for a number of cutting-edge disciplines in the health sciences. The design of laboratory space in this building has been optimized to facilitate interaction among researchers. As BST 3 is devoted exclusively to research, PIND's coverage extends beyond the new building to encompass related clinical activities at Pittsburgh's Oakland medical complex.
In 2008, the Foundation awarded $1 million to the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute for research in the cutting-edge field of clinical proteomics. For perhaps the next decade, early detection is thought to be the most promising avenue for achieving reductions in cancer rates. The poor prognosis for organ-site cancers, such as those of the liver and pancreas, has much to do with the fact that these conditions do not manifest themselves clinically until they are too far advanced for effective treatment. The difficulty of detecting them early is that screening is currently impractical. This situation contrasts with that of a condition like cervical cancer, where routine screening in the form of Pap smears makes early detection likely. The promise of clinical proteomics is to achieve early detection with a simple blood test. The aim is to achieve this by identifying protein "signatures" characteristic of particular types of cancer.
As part of its efforts to help create or promote health-related centers of excellence in Pittsburgh, the Foundation has awarded grants to advance education in disciplines critically important to the future of biomedicine. Among such grants is a commitment of $1 million to help Carnegie Mellon University scale up its biomedical engineering program into a full-fledged department. Opening its doors in 2002, this was the first new engineering department to be launched at the University in 25 years. Building on Carnegie Mellon's history of strength in cross-disciplinary work, the department integrates biological sciences and clinical research with computer science and engineering. Biomedical engineering brings these disciplines to bear on the design of devices for the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of medical conditions.
The Foundation has also pledged $470,000 to Carnegie Mellon to support the creation of a Ph.D. program in computational biology, augmenting the existing undergraduate and masters programs in this field. Computational biology integrates biological sciences, mathematics, and computer science to solve biological problems. The growth of computing power and of the need to analyze vast quantities of biological data (e.g., from DNA sequencing) has driven development of this field. Advances in biomedicine will increasingly be products of computational biology. The Ph.D. program in computational biology is a collaborative effort between Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh.
In clinical care, the Foundation has committed $1.5 million to the Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative (PRHI), which was launched in 1997 under the auspices of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation of Pittsburgh. PRHI’s ambitious mission is to help create a healthcare system that delivers the right care to the right person at the right time, every time, efficiently, and without error. PRHI is a unique community resource, providing clinicians with training and tools to dramatically improve healthcare quality through reductions in medical errors, use of evidence-based practices, and elimination of waste. PRHI helps clinical partners to improve outcomes using its Perfecting Patient Care™ (PPC) principles, an innovative quality-engineering approach adapted for healthcare from lean manufacturing techniques. Concerned and creative healthcare professionals have put PPC principles to work curbing infections, bringing best practices to cardiac care, reducing pathology errors and implementing new protocols to care for chronic illnesses. PRHI’s goal is to develop replicable models for transforming clinical practice and for evaluating the financial impact of safer, better healthcare. PRHI remains southwestern Pennsylvania’s sole “neutral convener” of healthcare stakeholders, including providers, insurers, purchasers, and patients. It facilitates the generation of data and exchange of information necessary for benchmarking and clinical improvement.