Sanford Health experts present at 2018 Vatican conference

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Sanford Health physicians and leaders were among the multi-national experts presenting at the Fourth International Vatican Conference in Rome.

The conference, “Unite to Cure: The Fourth International Vatican Conference – How Science, Technology and 21st Century Medicine Will Impact Culture and Society,” brought together leaders in health care, science and research from around the world as part of the Cura Foundation conference, which is held every other year in Rome. This was the second time Sanford Health presented at the invite-only event. Robin Smith, M.D., president of the foundation, also serves on the Sanford International Board.

“We’re thrilled to bring together the world’s best scientists, doctors, ethicists and leaders of faith, business, government and philanthropy to this extraordinary global event at The Vatican,” Smith said. “It’s a Davos for health care, and over the course of three days, we will rally the world around a very simple idea — that tomorrow’s cures are just around the corner, and by uniting together and understanding the challenges that lie ahead, we can speed the delivery of cures and foster great hope for patients all over the world suffering from deadly diseases and dangerous medical conditions.”

Related: Next Vatican conference scheduled for 2021

The biennial event is a collaboration among The Cura Foundation, Stem for Life Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to advancing global awareness of regenerative medicine and cell therapy, The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture and its foundation, STOQ (Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest).

‘Look toward the future’

During each conference, experts present on science, ethics, business and philanthropy.

The event discussions are moderated by renowned journalists such as Max Gomez, Ph.D., medical correspondent for CBS News; Sanjay Gupta, M.D., chief medical correspondent for CNN Health and Medical; Mehmet C. Oz, M.D., host of The Dr. Oz Show and professor of surgery at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center; and Meredith Vieira, journalist and talk show host.

The following experts from Sanford Health presented in 2018:

“This event allows us to sit with our colleagues in health and science and look toward the future. What does that look like for our patients, the communities we serve and the world?” Krabbenhoft said. “We know innovation happens every day, and this is one area where we can come together to look at what that really means, on a global scale.”

Sanford Health also attended in 2016, when the organization received the Pontifical Key Innovation Award. The award recognizes game-changing medical innovation exemplified by transformative thinking, creativity and ingenuity used to deliver the highest quality of medical care.

Related: Denny Sanford gets 2018 Pontifical Key Philanthropy Award

Sanford Health adds stem cell trials

Sanford Health leaders and legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus talked about stem cells as medicine at the 2018 Vatican conference.

“The Pharmacy of the Future” was the title of their presentation about how the health system uses stem cells.

Presenters for this panel, moderated by Sanjay Gupta, M.D., included:

“Stem cell procedures are being done at commercial clinics across the U.S. But it’s important for patients to know what treatment they’re getting and what it’s been proven to treat,” Lundeen said. “Clinical trials are the only way for us to understand the science of stem cells in the treatment of injury and disease. We’re fortunate here to have the infrastructure and institutional support to do these trials and find out everything we can so we’re moving forward in smart, therapeutic ways.”

Sanford Health has been aggressive in pursuing research related to adipose-derived stem cells.

“We know the future of medicine is trying to help the body repair itself, and we’re doing everything we can to move in that direction,” said Pearce. “Having FDA approval for these studies — and having so many of them — validates the work we’re doing.”

Related: Stem cell research at Sanford Health set for next phase

Golfer Jack Nicklaus taps Sanford Health for pain relief

Golf legend Jack Nicklaus said he trusted the work of Sanford Health — and stem cells in his own body — to repair a lifetime of injury.

The 78-year-old — who won 18 major championships, the most of anyone in history — told an invite-only crowd at the 2018 conference  that he had nearly 40 injections in his back and hip to ease the pain from golfing. None of it worked.

But a meeting with philanthropist Denny Sanford at a birthday party a few years ago changed his life. He heard about the adipose-derived stem cell work that Eckhard Alt, M.D., is doing at Isar Klinikum hospital in Munich, one of the Sanford World Clinic sites.

After considering, he took Mr. Sanford up on the suggestion, and Dr. Alt treated him with the stem cells.

“I’d like to get a result where I can stand up, hit something without hurting, and I can do that,” Mr. Nicklaus said on his conference panel, which he shared with Dr. Alt and two Sanford Health doctors: Jason Hurd, M.D., and Mark Lundeen, M.D.

“I’ve become a believer.”

Related: Nicklaus and Stockton families join Sanford International

Sanford Health experts spotlight rare diseases at Vatican

Sanford Health researcher Jill Weimer spoke about rare diseases and advancements in treating them at the 2018 conference.

This was the second time Weimer, Ph.D., who is an expert on Batten disease, has presented at the conference. She also went in 2016.

“This event is a great opportunity to network and form connections with other rare disease experts from across the world,” said Weimer, senior director of therapeutic development and associate scientist for Sanford Health.

Weimer’s panel included Sean P. Nolan, president and chief executive officer of AveXis, and James M. Wilson, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania. The panel was moderated by Gbola Amusa, M.D., director of research for Chardan Capital Markets.

Related: Studying rare genetic disorder

Clinical trial for type 1 diabetes reaches milestone

Dr. Kurt Griffin knows the toll that type 1 diabetes can take on a child.

He sees it every day in his Sanford Health clinic. Newly diagnosed children and their parents are there, trying to understand the autoimmune disease. They come to the realization that they will spend every day for the rest of their lives managing it.

“New ways of monitoring blood sugar and dosing insulin are coming,” said Griffin, M.D., Ph.D. “But until we figure out a way to keep the body from attacking itself, we are limited to replacing insulin the body can no longer make. This is lifesaving, but it requires constant vigilance, and there is no way to take a break from therapy. That can be very frustrating.”

A desire to get to the root of the disease helps drive Griffin’s research, including the ongoing T-rex clinical trial.

This Phase 2 clinical trial is conducted collaboratively by Sanford Health and Caladrius Biosciences Inc., (Caladrius)(Nasdaq: CLBS).

The study opened in March 2016, with two sites at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Fargo, North Dakota. It has expanded to 13 additional sites across the United States.  Griffin and Fargo, North Dakota-based pediatric endocrinologist Luis Casas, M.D., are the study’s principal investigators at Sanford Health.

Experts from Sanford Health talked about this project from the standpoint of how public/private partnerships can accelerate research and discoveries.

Related: Phase 2 type 1 diabetes clinical trial hits halfway point

Weight loss science drives Sanford Health Rome presentation

Experts from Sanford Health talked to an international audience about how combining genetic testing, meal plans and personal coaching can help people reach their weight loss goals.

Stephen Herrmann and David Pearce, both of Sanford Health, presented in Rome in 2018. It’s the largest international stage Herrmann has presented on for Profile by Sanford, a health coaching and weight-management system with Sanford Health, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Genetic testing is the latest innovation for the program. Launched in 2018, Profile Precise is a simple cheek swab test that analyzes how someone’s body metabolizes carbohydrates. Then health coaches use that information to tailor members’ meal plans, provide support and encourage success.

“We can take someone’s genetic information and provide them with data they can use and understand,” said Herrmann, Ph.D., senior director of innovation and research at Sanford Health. “Weight management is never easy, but we want people to be successful.”

Herrmann said there is a constant quest to advance and personalize nutrition.

“We know people vary widely in their genetics, and we know this affects how their bodies use nutrients,” he said. “This is our first step in this area, and it will continue to evolve as the science supports it.”

Related: Vascular age calculator: How old is your heart?

Originally published during Unite to Cure: The Fourth International Vatican Conference – How Science, Technology and 21st Century Medicine Will Impact Culture and Society in April 2018, this content was updated in 2019.