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The Global Vascular Institute

Q&A with Dr. Elad Levy

There is so much going on in the 120 acres of downtown’s Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus that it’s difficult to keep track of the all the growth. The constant stream of new building developments and ongoing projects is overwhelming, but also promises to help lead Buffalo back to the robust city it once was. Not a city of ironworkers and car parts manufacturing, but a city of medical research, medical facilities, and advanced technology. The neighborhood surrounding the medical campus has yet to really see much of an affect from all this bustle, but the medical campus seems close to reaching the tipping point where even 120 acres will not be enough to contain everyone who comes and goes. It’s not unreasonable to expect to see support services and housing cropping up soon to accommodate this growth.

One project of great interest is the Global Vascular Institute, a cooperative endeavor of Kaleida Health and the University at Buffalo Medical School. host Judy Sperry visited Stroke Services Director Dr. Elad Levy to talk about the project.

AV: The Global Vascular Institute, what is it?

EL: This is probably one of the most exciting developments in medicine for Buffalo and Western New York–a four hundred million dollar project that will be one of the centerpieces for the Buffalo Medical Corridor.

The concept is to bring research scientists and physicians together under one roof to cause them to interact. The architecture of the building is fantastic; there will be a lot of open space and it’ll force “collisions” between these people. Everything is about collisions because that’s where some of the best ideas happen. So we may have a scientist sharing an elevator with one of the cardiologists or neurosurgeons and they’ll start talking and discover each other’s needs or ideas and how to assist.

The GVI is where we expect great technology for stroke or cardiac intervention will be developed. Right now at the Toshiba Stroke Research Center and UB Neurosurgery we’ve developed or helped test many of the new technologies that we use in stroke. We want to expand that concept to the Global Vascular Center, so it’s not just about the brain and neurosurgery; we’ll be working with the cardiologists, the general surgeons and peripheral surgeons to encompass the whole body, the heart and the brain.

AV: So UB Neurosurgery will be there and who else?

EL: We’ll have interventional cardiologists, general surgeons, and peripheral vascular interventionalists; so we’ll address diseases of all the blood vessels not just of the brain and of the heart, but the blood vessels of the legs, the aorta, the entire body. But it’s the commingling of professions that’s important.

I may see a certain technology that works well in one application and decide that maybe we can adapt that technology for the brain. I would then speak with our scientists that build technology right above us and have them test it and re-design it to get optimal safe technology for our patients.

Another exciting part of this is the Jacobs Institute where we’re developing a turnkey approach for innovation. If someone has an idea for an innovation, we can patent that idea, build a prototype, test the prototype, and maybe even build a company in Western New York based on innovative medicine.

And this falls under the other component, which is the C.I.M. or Center for Innovation in Medicine. Medical technology and innovation in medicine is a huge industry and there’s no reason why Western New York and Buffalo can’t build and capture this industry. Right now this work is being parceled out in pieces to the West Coast or other parts of the East Coast where technology and medical developments are occurring. But Buffalo can be a corridor for innovation in medicine; this can be the hub right here in Western New York. And that’s what the Jacobs Institute and the Global Vascular Institute, hopefully will incorporate.

The people that put this together, spearheaded by Dr. L. Nelson Hopkins, the chair at U.B.N.S., have traveled all over this country picking up ‘best practices’ from other centers. No center really has it perfect, but there are many centers who have different components that they do well. So over the past several years we’ve traveled all over the country and picked apart the different centers and whatever they’ve done really well and we’ve tried to capture that. And now we’re going to bring all these pieces of excellence together and build what we think is a one of a kind, world-class center of excellence.

People often ask if this is going to be a research center or a clinical center. We’re breaking those barriers down; we’re going to blend it.

We want a seamless flow and communication about the clinical care we provide patients for diseases of the body, the heart and the brain, and all the researchers constantly trying to improve on the technologies that we use to treat these patients. Doctors and researchers will be eating in the same cafeteria, sharing tables for coffee. And hopefully by breaking down these physical barriers there will be an exchange of ideas and then implementation of these ideas to help our patients.

We want to minimize the time between a great idea and having something we can treat our patients with. And so the first few floors will be treatment floors, procedures, and some of the top floors will be research and innovation.

AV: Where will the patients come from when they come to the Global Vascular Institute?

EL: Currently at U.B.Neurosurgery we’ve treated patients from Singapore, from the Middle East, we’ve treated patients from all over the world, and trained doctors from all over the world, too. While patients often leave Western New York to get health care either at Cleveland Clinic or Mayo Clinic or elsewhere, we actually see a reverse migration for patients who come here for neuro-intervention or stroke diseases, carotid diseases or aneurism.

We hope the Global Vascular Center will draw not only neuro patients from around the world but cardiac patients and peripheral patients too. So I think if we continue to build all the various departments of minimally invasive surgical approaches to the blood vessels that we’ll get a national and then someday an international draw of patients and potentially physicians who will be working in the center.

AV: And the procedures that you’ve designed here, they’re being used all over the worl?

EL: Yes, Dr. Hopkins and Dr. Siddiqui, my two partners are definitely innovators and thought leaders. We lecture, the three of us, throughout the country thirty to forty times a year, where we share some of the technologies and approaches that we’ve used or pioneered or have implemented here.

AV: Do you think that the future will be minimally invasive for almost everything?

EL: A hundred percent. It’s easier for the patients, there’s less recovery time. Right now, well I should say maybe ten years ago, no aneurisms of the brain, at least in this country were really being done minimally invasively, or very few, maybe twenty, thirty percent. Now it’s almost up to seventy, seventy-five percent, in some countries greater than ninety percent. We may never get a hundred percent minimally invasive but the future suggests that the vast majority of diseases of the heart, the brain and the blood vessels in the body will be treated via a minimally invasive approach.

It’s worth mentioning that a lot of the research we do has resulted in commercially patented devices. Dr. Hopkins holds several patents, as well as my partner Dr. Siddiqui and I hold a few. We typically have exported these services; so we may have an idea and we’ll call our friends on the West Coast who are excellent at patenting and building prototypes and building companies. But the concept here is why do we have to export that? Why can’t we capture all that industry in Western New York? Why can’t we take our idea and build the technology and the company and let Buffalo benefit from that? And in addition, this four hundred million dollar project is going to require a lot of support infrastructure. Food services, other services.

AV: Creating jobs?

EL: Creating a lot of jobs. This is going to be a huge boost to the Buffalo economy, much more than the Waterfront Project. The Waterfront Project will probably follow it because it’s going to need to as everyone moves downtown. People moving downtown to work at the G.V.I. will need food services, shops, everything is going to start being built up in this medical corridor. That will be an immediate gain for the Buffalo area.

—AV Interview by J.M.

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