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Innovations in Health Care
A look into some of the ways hospital systems are utilizing new treatments, technology and trials to deliver improved outcomes for the region.

by Madeleine Maccar

Providing world-class health care doesn’t just mean hiring the best and the brightest: It means arming top-tier medical professionals with the tools and technology that amplify their skills to continually deliver even better care and more favorable outcomes for their neighbors. For this year’s look into the way the area’s hospitals are walking that walk, we’re showcasing the treatment breakthroughs and monumental milestones alike that are improving the lives of South Jersey residents, one patient at a time.

Earlier-Stage Lung Cancer Detection

Optellum Virtual Nodule Clinic

AtlantiCare was the Northeast’s first health system to use Optellum’s Virtual Nodule Clinic. At the heart of this technology is artificial intelligence (AI), which the teams at the Heart & Lung and Cancer Care Institute at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center use to detect lung cancer—one of the hardest-to-detect cancers—at early stages. By integrating Optellum technology into its program, AtlantiCare has elevated lung cancer diagnosis and treatment with measurable results: The team has increased its detection of treatable lung cancer by 15%. And in several instances, the technology has decreased “scan to cure” time to less than a month—saving lives and improving patients’ quality of life.

AtlantiCare uses the AI-driven technology on every CT and/or PET scan they perform that captures all or a portion of the lung—allowing the team to incidentally detect miniscule, suspicious pulmonary nodules at the earliest stages. This program offers the ability to find lung cancer in its earlier stages. In addition, it allows the team to prioritize high-risk individuals via Optellum’s integrated Lung Cancer Prediction capabilities.

“Early-stage lung cancer symptoms are often vague or mimic those of other illnesses,” said Amit Borah, MD, interventional pulmonologist and leader of the Interventional Pulmonology team at AtlantiCare’s Lung Nodule Clinic. “When detected early and treated timely the survival rate for cancerous lung nodules can be as high as 90%. Through this technology, we are detecting suspicious nodules at earlier stages than ever, which is so critical to saving lives.”

Metastatic Melanoma Treatment

Cooper University Health Care
A Promising First-Ever Clinical Trial 

MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper’s researchers are leading the way in new approaches to treating advanced melanoma using tumor infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) therapy. Earlier this year, the center became the world’s first site to both offer and enroll a patient in TILVANCE-301, a new randomized Phase III clinical trial evaluating the efficacy of TIL therapy as a first-line treatment versus pembrolizumab, the current standard of immunotherapy care. 

After long cancer treatments, T cells often become depleted; TIL therapy replaces them with the patient’s own boosted, lab-grown T cells that can renew the fight against the cancer.

“TIL therapy is a promising, personalized approach to cancer treatment,” says Young Ki Hong, MD, MPH, surgical oncologist at MD Anderson at Cooper, and principal investigator of several TIL studies. “Our patient has had a remarkable response to this therapy. Each subsequent surveillance scan has shown a continuous reduction in the size of her tumor. … Research findings published in top medical journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine, have shown that TIL therapy not only prolongs the lives of those with advanced melanoma, but also allows some to have complete responses, even after failing the previous standard-of-care immunotherapy. Research has documented numerous patients who have been cured of their metastatic melanoma for more than 10 years from this treatment.”

This clinical trial is part of emerging cell therapy treatments for several types of solid tumor cancers, including non-small cell lung cancer, cervical cancer, and head and neck cancers.

Radiation-Free Heart Imaging

Deborah Heart and Lung Center 
MRI Scanner

This past spring, less than a year after two New Jersey senators secured a $1 million federal appropriation for Deborah Heart and Lung Center to purchase a state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner, a celebratory team officially “unveiled” the new MRI.

“This technology is essential to diagnose and monitor a variety of cardiovascular conditions, especially disorders of the cardiac muscle and valves, as well as congenital heart defects,” says President and CEO Joseph Chirichella. “Cardiac MRI is critically valuable in predicting the risk posed by different heart conditions, and is used to identify and tailor specific cardiac therapies, including for heart rhythm disturbances, as well as conditions related to Covid-19. … [It] will provide excellent access for our patients without many of the limitations of earlier scanners for comfort and study quality.”

Chirichella noted that the MRI scanner will provide not only sophisticated heart imaging, but also an opportunity for local patients to access MRI imaging for their organs, bones, joints and muscles.

“Deborah is located in a designated medically underserved area,” he adds. “As one of the country’s leading cardiac centers, a cardiac MRI builds on our program of excellence. However, community access to an MRI for a variety of other medical conditions will vastly reduce the need for residents to travel long distances for this type of specialized, detailed imaging, allowing people convenient, earlier, and more precise diagnosis of their conditions.”

State-Certified Treatment

Jefferson Health – New Jersey
Percutaneous Coronary Intervention

For patients experiencing the most severe type of heart attack—ST elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI)—time is of the essence. In August, Jefferson Health received New Jersey state certification to offer a specialized treatment, Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI), for STEMI patients at its Washington Township Hospital Catheterization Lab.

A STEMI is a type of heart attack caused by a complete blockage of a coronary artery. These heart attacks are extremely serious and can be life threatening. “Time is critical to open up these vessels to save the patient’s life,” says Henry Schuitema, DO, chief of emergency medicine at Jefferson Health – East Region, and associate chief medical officer at Jefferson Washington Township Hospital. “This new service enables us to quickly provide life-saving care to community members experiencing STEMI. It is yet another step in our efforts to continually offer the highest level of care possible, close to home.”

For STEMI patients, the necessary time to undergo PCI—a non-surgical procedure to treat blockages in the coronary artery—is within 90 minutes of arriving at one of Jefferson’s New Jersey hospitals and being sent to the catheterization lab. Jefferson Health will accept STEMI patients from both the inpatient patient care units and/or emergency departments at its New Jersey hospitals. The Jefferson Transfer Center will arrange for immediate transfers to the Jefferson Washington Township Catheterization Lab for patients needing PCI. 

Multi-Disciplinary Research Lab

Penn Medicine
The Penn Institute for RNA Innovation

Just across the river, South Jerseyans are among those benefiting from a new Wexford Science & Technology-developed laboratory space for the University of Pennsylvania, which will usher in a wave of novel vaccine, therapeutics and engineered diagnostics research for the region as Penn research teams utilize the 115,000 square feet of space at One uCity Square within a 13-story purpose-built lab and office building within the uCity Square Knowledge Community. 

The new space will house Penn Medicine’s Institute for RNA Innovation and Penn Engineering’s Center for Precision Engineering for Health, underscoring the university’s commitment to a multi-disciplinary and collaborative approach to research that will attract and retain the best talent and engage partners from across the region. 

During an opening celebration for the institute last month, Dr. Drew Weissman of Penn Medicine and the institute’s co-director said that it was already collaborating with more than 250 labs across both the country and the world, with intentions to collaborate with a total of 500 by next year.

The first Penn lab relocated to One uCity Square in September, with additional Penn labs moving to the new spaces through 2024. The space will support open and collaborative office and convening spaces for more than 50 institute researchers and administrative staff.

Technological Milestone

Virtua Health
35,000 Robotic-Assisted Surgeries

Virtua Health has reached a unique landmark: The Marlton-based health system has performed 35,000 robotic-assisted surgeries to date—more than any other in South Jersey.
These advanced operations include robotic hernia repairs, bariatric, gynecologic, urologic and colorectal procedures, kidney transplants, and hip and knee replacements, among many others. 

Robotic surgery can offer greater precision and faster recovery with less pain, notes Virtua executive Paul Minnick, who oversees robotic surgery programs across the system. 
“Our high volume of robotic surgeries shows our commitment to staying at the forefront of this technology, to provide patients with the best possible care,” says Minnick, president of Virtua Voorhees and Virtua Marlton hospitals. 

Virtua was among the first health systems to adopt robotic techniques, starting in 2006. The health system provides robotic surgery at all five of its hospitals, and hip/knee replacement is also offered at several outpatient surgery centers. More than 50 Virtua surgeons perform these procedures. 

“Our years of experience mean that Virtua surgeons are highly skilled in performing robotic-assisted procedures,” notes Dr. Craig Zaretsky, chair of Virtua’s Department of Surgery. “Our expertise enables Virtua to robotically handle more complex cases—where the benefits of robotic surgery are even greater for patients.”

Cherry Hill resident Marcia Hinden is thankful for the robotic hernia repair she received in July at Virtua Voorhees Hospital.

“Two days after the operation, I was fine,” says Hinden. “I was in no pain and stopped taking pain medication. I’m very grateful for that.”

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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 13, Issue 12 (December 2023).

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