Florida State Senator Visits the Elaine and Sydney Sussman Family Crohn’s and Colitis Clinic
To help raise awareness about inflammatory bowel disease, Florida State Senator Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, recently visited the Elaine and Sydney Sussman Family Crohn’s and Colitis Clinic at UHealth, the University of Miami Health System.
Sen. Sobel toured the clinic for a first-hand look at how a state appropriation she helped secure is being used by Director Maria T. Abreu, M.D., and her team, both in the clinic and in advancing research toward better diagnoses and therapies for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, the two most common forms of inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD.
The mission to help is a personal one for the Senator.
“My daughter, Emily, has Crohn’s disease so I’ve been attuned to the struggles of people afflicted with this debilitating illness for many years,” she said. “I have known Dr. Abreu for a long time and we have been in touch regarding the Center’s needs and its potential for growth.”
During the last legislative session, Sen. Sobel and her colleagues worked together to obtain funding to enhance IBD research and improve health care delivery. UM, which established its cutting-edge Crohn’s and Colitis Clinic in 2013, received a $250,000 state grant.
“Sen. Sobel’s commitment to the well-being of our community is exemplary of the impact public officials can have on the health care of their constituency,” said Roy Weiss, M.D., Chair of the Department of Medicine at the UM Miller School of Medicine. “Her gift to the Crohn’s and Colitis Clinic will benefit many individuals even outside her constituency.”
The clinic is the only one of its kind in the southeastern United States, and is the result of Abreu’s vision for a multidisciplinary medical center with coordinated clinical care, nutrition and research, in one dedicated area. Patients are seen not only by their gastroenterologist, but also by physicians representing other disciplines related to IBD, and key health professionals who provide ancillary services.
The goal is to provide comprehensive treatment, in surroundings where patients and their families feel comfortable.
“I was very impressed at the level of detail they thought out as far as making the patient office a relaxing and calm environment,” said Sen. Sobel.
As a result of the funding, Abreu plans to add a social worker to the clinic team to assist families and young patients dealing with the emotional impact of IBD.
“When you are dealing with children and teenagers, there is always more than just the patient, there is always a family involved too,” said Abreu, professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology, and the Martin H. Kalser Chair in Gastroenterology, and Chief of the Division of Gastroenterology. “We want to be able to give them the emotional support that they need.”
Sen. Sobel also visited the bionanotechnology laboratories of Sylvia Daunert, Ph.D., whose laboratory, and that of Sapna Deo, Ph.D., teams with Abreu’s to develop new diagnostic tools and therapies.
Daunert also has a personal connection with the disease: her eldest daughter has been affected by Crohn’s since childhood. Seeing how devastating it can be motivated Daunert to focus her research to find solutions to treat Crohn’s and colitis.
Abreu and Daunert have been working collaboratively to investigate the influence of environmental factors on the gut of individuals at the molecular level. They are particularly interested in immigrant populations from the Caribbean and Latin America, which have seen a rising incidence of IBD, possibly caused by the environmental change that occurs when people come to the United States.“Understanding these effects is key in developing new tools that will aid in the non-invasive diagnosis and management of the disease, as well as in the discovery of new therapies,” said Daunert, the Lucille P. Markey Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Associate Director of the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Biomedical Nanotechnology Institute of the University of Miami.
Sen. Sobel says the clinic is on the verge of becoming a critical medical destination.
“Medical tourism in Florida is an untapped reservoir of wealth,” she said. “We could create thousands of high-paying jobs and become the locus for Crohn’s, IBD, ulcerative colitis and other gastrointestinal disorders’ treatment with a highly organized and well-funded plan. And I mean that for the world, not just Florida or the United States.”