POSTED ON JULY 6, 2011:
Becoming the Next "Biopolis"
A biomedical big bang could cure Tulsa's personal, community and economic health
Singapore, the futuristic, city-state has become a giant hot spot for life science, healthcare innovation, bioengineering and breakout medical products -- seemingly overnight.
The Singaporean project is an example of how parts of big city economies can be transformed and refashioned very quickly.
John Kao's Innovation Nation, an incisive new book on innovation and development economics, highlights Singapore's new biomed science "city," an enclave with more than 9,000 high-caliber researchers and commercial scientists.
These mavens come from the classic life sciences, from bioengineering, from medicine and genetics and from a host of emerging fields including bioinfomatics, a toolkit oriented science/tech discipline that bridges mathematics, visualization and computer bio-models to posit what is required to keep communities healthy and fit.
Many of the research and commercial folks working in "Biopolis," the name for this spellbinding expanse of labs, supercomputers, gene sequencing machines and on-site startup companies, come from Singapore, but others hail from around the world, including Nobel Prize winners and superstars who have pulled up stakes and left the Europe, Asian and yes, the United States.
How does a city get the extra traction, the curve ball tactics required to move ahead in such a decisive way?
Obviously, part of the road ahead for Tulsa will come from luck and the interplay of national and world markets. But another tread could come from savvy use of public seed dollars, grants, our universities and our grand philanthropic assets to intentionally craft pieces of Tomorrowland.
T-Town currently spends about $5 of its annual $44 billion on medical care and allied expenses. Here is the thing: some communities will simply provide their own populations with good care but others will move to "maker" mode -- a shift to the bleeding edge and show other communities how to do next stage biomed/health-care better, cheaper and faster. And -- this is the cool part -- the towns that get on this big boy runway may benefit hugely in terms of new employment, superior business ecologies and more high potential start up ventures. These benefits will go with jumpstart products and services, and radical new health care practices that can be exported to the rest of the U.S. and the world.
The confluence of the national digital health records project, new care organizing models and adventurous pilot projects -- which some label "Obamacare," may present a historic opportunity for Tulsa, and the quality of our current crop of project management, health care and academic medicine leadership is a crucial part of our advantage.
Key Tulsa medical and public health and social service leaders see a synchronicity of life sciences efforts, singular medical ventures and bold institutional initiatives in Tulsa.
Bioinformatics and Tulsa's Beacon Project
Excitingly, our city is now a platform for one of a dozen frontier electronic medical records projects in the country, one of 12 efforts selected by the feds in a rigorous national competition last year.
The effort, called the Tulsa Beacon project is designed to get our city out in front of a national effort to reduce the appalling number of errors, and the huge waste of dollars and human talent entailed in every day medical appointments, drug prescriptions and patient tracking.
The Beacon project is headed up by Dr. David C. Kendrick of University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, himself a great amalgam of public health master, medical doctor and advocate of data-centric approaches to improve healthcare in Tulsa.
Before he came to Tulsa, Kendrick worked at Archimedes, a bicoastal health systems mathematics firm -- a compelling example of the sort of venture that might spring from a biomedical big bang in Tulsa.
Becoming "Biopolis" could net Tulsa a real role in the genesis of an array of new markets, thousands of new jobs and more jobs still if a breakout company or two emerges from the hothouse opportunities sparked by Beacon.
Combine Beacon with the new joint medical school -- the OU School of Community Medicine being crafted by OU-Tulsa president Gerald Clancey and the University of Tulsa -- a series of initiatives that may come from the Tulsa Health Department and pacesetter projects from Tulsa's Community Service Council of Greater Tulsa and social venture maven Russ Burkhart, and we have the elements that might ignite a frenzy.
The Measured Life: Another Example
Emily Singer, a writer for MIT's Technology Review monthly, has written a fascinating article this month, an essay on what she and others are calling "The Measured Life."
She asks: "Do you know how much REM sleep you got last night? New types of devices that monitor activity, sleep, diet and even could make us healthier and more productive."
Singer's article chronicles the rise of a still small, elite movement to use smart phones and allied technologies to continuously track measures like your blood pressure, your heart rate, your response to stress or even, as Singer talks about at the beginning of her article, the quality of your sleep.
There will be many companies cobbled together to develop the software, the devices, and the networking strategies needed to make such a "measured life" an affordable, practical aspect of how we all go about improving our health.
The measured life approach offers a revolutionary way to interact with doctors and help us manage our personal and collective health. With a plan for nurturing and attracting firms with this focus and some targeted seed capital, Tulsa could be a nucleus for these new ventures.
Systems of Care
What Dr. Gerald Clancey calls systems of care are another employment/start company driver in the new arena. Fashioning highly integrated, cost-accountable constellations of health care providers and especially trained health "navigation" workers is just one element. Training new kinds of doctors through a tight focus on community health, powerful prevention efforts and the environmental/social dimensions of health care is a second thrust.
By being intentional in crafting these new skill sets Tulsa could lead the way and get paid just the way that Alexandria, Va., New York City and Minneapolis lead the way in "inventing" emergency medicine.
Finally, there is the awesome business of getting up to speed on emerging feedback technologies, health care games and other novel tools to attack the grand demons of America's healthcare challenge: behavioral and health lifestyle choices, changes key to ratcheting down cardiovascular disease, obesity, poor eating habits, smoking and insufficient exercise.
In next week's piece, I'll look at these prospects and what some call "serious gaming."
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