Catching Cancer with the Prick of a Needle

Catching Cancer with the Prick of a Needle

Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

For most people faced with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, those words are sadly common. Because of the location of the pancreas in the body, finding tumors in the early stages is difficult – so difficult that by the time someone notices anything wrong, the cancer is already attacking other vital organs.

But what if there was a way to catch cancer in its early stages, when treatments have a fighting chance of improving survival?

That’s what Eric Klein, MD, Chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Glickman Urological & Kidney Institute, hopes to accomplish with his recent study.

Cleveland Clinic took part in a multi-center clinical trial that used the blood samples of 15,000 patients across North America – 70% of whom had known cancers and 30% who did not – as a window to cancer behavior inside the body.

“We learned that this blood test can detect more than 50 types of cancer in patients who have cancer, and many of those – about half – in the early stages of cancer, which is the whole point of the test: to find cancer earlier when it’s easiest to cure,” says Dr. Klein.

The test determined the location of cancer in the body with 93% accuracy, and it had a 0.7% false positive rate, meaning that less than 1% of people studied were wrongly identified as having cancer.

With more research, Dr. Klein says, these factors will help investigators figure out if this test could be used as part of a routine screening health exam for people who have no history of cancer.

How It Works

To help detect abnormal patterns in the body, the test looks at a fundamental biologic process that occurs when cancer cells die.

“The goal here is to use new sequencing technology, called next generation sequencing, that has the capacity to find DNA that is shed from cancer cells, at very low levels in the blood, and develop something called a liquid biopsy that can screen the entire body for cancer,” says Dr. Klein.

When it comes to detecting early-stage cancer, he says the test was able to detect about 75% of stage 1 to stage 3 cancers.

So does this mean the glass is three-quarters full or a quarter empty?

“Right now, there are five cancers for which there are established screening paradigms – prostate cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer and colon cancer,” says Dr. Klein. “But there are many other cancers — which actually account for the majority of cancer-related deaths in the United States — that don’t have good screening paradigms. And so, while this test isn’t going to detect every cancer in every patient, even if we can detect half the cancers, such as ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer and liver cancer for which there are no established screening tests, we should have a meaningful impact on cancer mortality.”

While funding is in place for further research in this specific study, Dr. Klein notes that philanthropy remains critically important to the research mission of Cleveland Clinic.

His passion is driving new cancer research, an area where there is much competition for grant dollars and limited supply.

“There are a lot of creative people here who want to do interesting studies across all diseases. My particular interest is in cancer, where having philanthropic support is essential to be able to conduct the early stages of the study,” says Dr. Klein. “And it’s needed for all things. It’s needed for equipment, it’s needed for personnel, it’s needed for data management and data analysis, so it’s a critical part of what we do.”

How You Can Help

Your gift to support cancer research like Dr. Klein’s makes a difference – it creates opportunities for scientific discovery, treatment and therapies. Please make a gift today.

Cleveland Clinic Florida Research and Innovation Center Opens

Cleveland Clinic Florida Research and Innovation Center Opens

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of clinical research, as scientists seek effective methods of prevention and treatment for the coronavirus. As of July 1, Cleveland Clinic Florida is now able to pursue innovative translational research, focused on immuno-oncology and infectious diseases such as COVID-19, at a new facility in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

The Florida Research and Innovation Center, established in November 2019, is a 107,000-square-foot, leading-edge research facility located across from Cleveland Clinic Tradition Hospital. The center features modern laboratory space, biosafety level 3 facilities for work with infectious agents, and office space for support services on eight acres of land.

Cleveland Clinic has recruited a team of renowned scientists to the new center to launch scientific programs that address both local and international health challenges, including cancer and emerging pathogens. Additionally, the facility will provide an exceptional training environment for researchers. 

A New Hub for Cleveland Clinic Scientists

The Florida Research and Innovation Center will complement and expand research underway at the Florida health system’s five hospitals and the Lerner Research Institute (LRI), which is home to 190 laboratories on Cleveland Clinic’s main campus in Cleveland, Ohio. The scientific teams will closely collaborate, tapping into resources in Florida and at LRI to develop new treatments for patients around the globe.

“We are pleased to be moving forward with our vision to create a world-class research program in Florida,” says Joseph Iannotti, MD, PhD, Interim CEO and President of Cleveland Clinic Florida and Chief Academic and Innovation Officer. “We are confident that the collaboration between our scientists and partners will ultimately result in the development of therapies that address some of the most challenging medical conditions we face.”

The Florida Research and Innovation Center will be closely integrated with Cleveland Clinic’s new Center for Global and Emerging Pathogens Research established in April 2020, which has brought together some of the world’s top research experts in virology, immunology, genomics and population health to broaden understanding of emerging pathogens – ranging from the Zika virus to SARS-CoV-2 (also known as the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19) – and to expedite critically needed treatments and vaccines. The researchers also will collaborate with drug developers at the Lerner Research Institute’s Center for Therapeutics Discovery to more rapidly move discoveries out of the laboratory and into the clinic for patient care. 

Building a Collaborative Program

“Cleveland Clinic’s robust research infrastructure will be further expanded with the opening of the Florida Research and Innovation Center,” says Tom Hamilton, PhD, Vice Chair of LRI. “Through team-based discovery, forward-thinking science, translational research, clinical trials and innovation, our vision is to bring together a world-class team of experts within a leading-edge research facility.”

The Florida Research and Innovation Center is headed by Scientific Director Michaela Gack, PhD, who joined Cleveland Clinic Florida in July 2020. Previously, Dr. Gack was Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Chair of the Committee on Microbiology at The University of Chicago. Dr. Gack, a renowned virologist, has an extensive background in microbiology and infectious disease. Her research focuses on the immune system’s response to viruses, an essential step in developing safe and effective antivirals and vaccines. She also has done extensive research on immune evasion mechanisms of the dengue, influenza and Zika viruses.

Dr. Gack received the Merck Irving S. Sigal Memorial Award of the American Society for Microbiology in 2014, and she has been named twice to Germany’s list of “Top 40 under 40” scientists. In 2017, she was awarded the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity to join Cleveland Clinic Florida and build a collaborative program with some of the top scientists in these fields,” says Dr. Gack. “Collectively, we have spent many years studying the interplay between viruses and human disease. We look forward to applying the knowledge we have gained to develop new strategies for vaccines and treatments.”

How You Can Help

Philanthropic support is vital to medical research. Gifts of all sizes bring us closer to new treatments and therapies — and the promise of saving countless lives. Donate today to help us continue high-priority research and provide the best care for patients.

Great Experiences and a Boston ‘Bond’ Lead to Giving Back

Great Experiences and a Boston ‘Bond’ Lead to Giving Back

Florida residents for the past 42 years, John and Lisa Strader always appreciated the care they received at Cleveland Clinic Florida, but their most recent patient visits motivated them to give back.

In April, when Lisa’s cognitive condition worsened, John made an appointment for her to see Damon Salzman, MD, at Cleveland Clinic Weston’s Department of Neurology. Despite her resistance to seeing a neurologist, Lisa quickly felt comfortable with him.

“Dr. Salzman was the first neurologist that she was willing to see, and once he and Lisa started talking about his time spent in Boston, he put her right at ease,” John says, noting that his wife is originally from Boston.

Lisa and Dr. Salzman bonded when he told her that he became familiar with her native city while completing his medical residency and fellowship. Having a connection that put Lisa at ease allowed Dr. Salzman to more readily assess her condition, make a full diagnosis and give recommendations.

“Dr. Salzman is an absolute delight to work with,” says John.“He gained my wife’s confidence, and he is doing everything he can to help manage and mitigate, to the extent possible, her significant memory challenges. I’ve been tremendously impressed with him, his work and his staff.”

Dr. Salzman joined Cleveland Clinic Florida in 2019 as a board-certified neurologist. He specializes in adult neurological disorders, migraine headache management, sleep disorders and other neurodegenerative diseases. He has conducted extensive research into Alzheimer's disease and the safety and efficacy of treatment protocols.

In gratitude for the superior care the Straders have experienced at Cleveland Clinic Florida, John made a gift to the Department of Neurology to support research and education programs associated with Alzheimer’s disease and movement disorders.

“Given the challenges we are facing during these uncertain times, your staff never lost sight of the humanity that’s involved, and everyone there seems to get that. That’s why I wanted to give back to Cleveland Clinic. Nominally, it was made for Dr. Salzman and his work, but it’s really in appreciation for all our remarkable experiences interacting with Cleveland Clinic.”

Going Above and Beyond

John recalls another experience at Cleveland Clinic Florida that stood out to him because of the great level of compassion he was shown.

“When I had to stay in the hospital for a procedure a few years back, I was in a fair amount of pain, and the staff at Cleveland Clinic Florida couldn’t have been more attentive, from the doctors and nurses all the way to the orderly who helped me when I had a challenge in the middle of the night. He stuck around even after his shift was over just to make sure I was doing okay and properly settled,” John says.

“Every time we have called on Cleveland Clinic for a health challenge we are experiencing, the staff has gone the extra mile to ensure our best possible care,” he continues, calling Cleveland Clinic Florida“our go-to place” for all medical needs.

“It’s your people that most impress me,” John says. “All the quality people from top to bottom. From the doctors and specialists to the nurses and support staff—everybody who works there never loses sight of the fact that they are dealing with people who are often in situations that are stressful and worrisome. I’ve never had an experience there where anyone was less than sensitive, professional, empathetic and compassionate.”

How You Can Help

Philanthropy helps fund research into treatment and care for neurological disorders and diseases. You can make an impact by making a gift today.

How Are You Sleeping? Personal Loss Ignites Crusade for Sleep Apnea Awareness

How Are You Sleeping? Personal Loss Ignites Crusade for Sleep Apnea Awareness

Like many people with sleep apnea, Mary Schaff’s husband, John, unknowingly endured the condition for years before being diagnosed at the age of 57. In 2015, just two days before a scheduled sleep test to begin treatment for his condition, John experienced tachycardia – a dangerously fast heart rate -- and ultimately died of cardiac arrest. Sleep apnea was listed as a contributing cause on his death certificate.

Since then, Mary has been advocating for sleep apnea education and awareness, turning her family tragedy into a crusade to help millions who may not even be aware that they have the under-recognized and highly treatable disorder.

“This is a medical condition you can not take on yourself,” says Mary, who also was diagnosed with moderate sleep apnea and is now being successfully treated. “No one should lose their life to sleep apnea. You need to get professional help.”

The Importance of Sleep

Sleep apnea occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep, sometimes hundreds of times. The most common form is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), where the soft tissue of the palate collapses against the back of the throat, blocking the airway. In addition to interfering with sound sleep, it reduces the flow of oxygen to vital organs and causes heart rhythm irregularities.

“Adequate, quality sleep is incredibly important for good health – just as important as eating healthy and exercising,” explains neurologist Nancy Foldvary-Schaefer, DO, MS, Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Cleveland Clinic. “Poor sleep is linked to weight gain and a greater risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s disease and depression.”

It’s estimated that 25% of men and nearly 10% of women experience sleep apnea, although as many as 90% who may have the potentially deadly sleep disorder are undiagnosed.

Advocating for Awareness

In 2017, Mary made a transformational planned gift to the Sleep Disorders Center to raise awareness of sleep apnea. The center is among the first in the nation dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders.

In just a few short years, Mary’s support has advanced patient and caregiver education and helped to fund the development of a mobile sleep app by Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer and her team at the Sleep Disorders Center.

Available on the App Store, Sleep by Cleveland Clinic is a free smartphone application that is designed to screen for sleep apnea, insomnia, shift work disorder and insufficient sleep. Based on a survey-generated sleep disorder profile, app users are provided with a risk assessment and access to educational resources. They also may be directed to local providers of accredited sleep services.

“Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer’s team has made tremendous headway, and I am simply ecstatic to see that progress,” Mary says.

In addition to helping identify and educate potential sleep apnea patients, Mary’s gift supports awareness among healthcare providers. Cleveland Clinic has developed an online continuing medical education course on OSA for primary healthcare providers. Obstructive Sleep Apnea: A Cleveland Clinic State-of-the-Art Review already has been completed by more than 10,500 medical professionals. The annual Cleveland Clinic Nursing and Advanced Practice Provider Sleep Symposium also educates clinicians about common sleep disorders and their treatments.

“Sleep deprivation is a national public health issue, and sleep apnea is a big contributor,” stresses Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer. “Our goal is to have all primary care physicians asking their patients, ‘How are you sleeping?’”

How You Can Help

Mary has generously agreed to match gifts made to Cleveland Clinic’s Sleep Disorders Center. Give today and your donation will be multiplied, helping to create greater awareness of sleep apnea.

New Center Seeks to Help Prevent Alzheimer’s in Women

New Center Seeks to Help Prevent Alzheimer’s in Women

“We know that two out of three brains that develop Alzheimer’s belong to women, but we don’t know why,” says Maria Shriver, founder of The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM). “Given there is no cure for this devastating disease, prevention is our best hope to reduce the physical, social and financial hardships brought on by Alzheimer’s to families around the world, especially in communities of color, where the risk for Alzheimer’s is sometimes double that for whites.”

To address this need, Cleveland Clinic and WAM recently opened the nation’s first Alzheimer’s prevention clinic designed just for women: The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Prevention Center at Cleveland Clinic, located within Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas. The program’s approach is based on peer-reviewed scientific studies indicating that up to one-third of all Alzheimer’s cases might be preventable through risk-reduction strategies.

Personalized Recommendations to Reduce Risk

Under the direction of Jessica Caldwell, PhD, a neuropsychologist with expertise in brain health, memory, aging and women’s risks for Alzheimer’s disease, the center combines the latest science on prevention with a woman’s medical history, biological risks, habits, mood and memory to create a custom, sustainable plan for lifestyle modifications that can reduce the risk of the disease.

“While Alzheimer’s disease impacts women disproportionately, today’s medical care models and research studies largely approach the disease that affects 5.3 million Americans as though it were the same for women and men,” says Dr. Caldwell. “Our program is the first to pair prevention strategies with a woman’s individualized risk to help women make tailored, lasting behavior changes that promote brain health and reduce risk. We are committed to science and hope our program will help us better understand why women are more likely to get Alzheimer’s and how we might prevent it.”

The center is for women of all ages who may have a risk for Alzheimer’s disease due to family history or are concerned about their risk and want to minimize it. The ideal patient is interested in meeting with board-certified doctors and gaining an enhanced understanding of the impact of sleep, stress, medical conditions, menopause, nutrition, exercise and other factors on brain health, and adopting positive long-term lifestyle changes.

A Positive Impact on Women’s Brain Health

The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Prevention Center at Cleveland Clinic is a three-year pilot program powered by philanthropy. “I’ve been talking for years about a medical facility tailored specifically to the needs of women who want to reduce their risk for Alzheimer’s,” says Shriver. “I am so proud that my friend Larry Ruvo and his renowned clinic stepped up to partner with WAM to make this first one a reality. Our goal is to lay out a medical path to a future that isn’t preordained to include Alzheimer’s.”

Additional funds are needed to expand the program, notably its research component. Through research, the team hopes that data collected will illustrate the impact The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Prevention Center can make on women’s brain health.

“Prevention is an increasingly important approach in Alzheimer’s disease and one that we have actively been pursuing at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health through clinical trials and observational research studies,” says Marwan Sabbagh, MD, Director of the Lou Ruvo Center. “The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Prevention Center is Cleveland Clinic’s newest initiative to leverage brain science and our understanding of the positive, lifelong impact of risk reduction.”

How You Can Help

Your gift to the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Prevention Center will be used to further the research and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease in women. Please make a gift today.