Advancing health and medicine

All Wisconsin families deserve access to high-quality, affordable health care. UW–Madison provides Wisconsin’s hospitals and clinics with the talented doctors, nurses and pharmacists to achieve that goal. UW–Madison leads the way in services that bring prevention and public health support to every corner of the state. And the university is focused on the future through basic research, leading the nation in areas such as stem-cell science, influenza research, cancer treatment and transplant medicine.

Responding to rural health needs: The School of Medicine and Public Health is addressing the serious shortage of physicians in rural areas of the state with the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine (WARM). In contrast to the standard MD curriculum, WARM students spend their third and fourth years of medical school in a regional/rural learning community. The first group of WARM students began in the fall of 2007, and the program incrementally increased the size of the medical school class by 25 students over the next several years.

All eyes on Beaver Dam: Through an extraordinary health partnership dating back three decades, residents of Beaver Dam have been participating in a landmark eye study that has the attention of researchers around the world. This longitudinal study is helping UW ophthalmologists Barbara and Ronald Klein evaluate the causes and prevalence of glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration — diseases that affect as many as 38 million older Americans.

Fighting asthma in the inner city: Children who live in America’s inner cities face a dramatically higher risk of developing severe asthma than kids from non-urban settings — a problem national health leaders believe has reached epidemic proportions. The School of Medicine and Public Health is leading a $60 million federal clinical trial to explore biological and environmental root causes and directly help current asthma sufferers, who often have inadequate access to health care. Along with conventional treatments, the study is also offering promising new immune-based asthma treatments to children.

Less eating, better living: A long-term study of primates is offering definitive proof that a healthy, reduced calorie diet can have cascading positive health effects, including lower disease risk and more graceful aging. The study, led by medical professor Richard Weindruch, was initiated in 1989 with 76 rhesus monkeys. With the help of a $7.9 million federal grant, Weindruch now follows the health of the monkeys into their late middle age, when health problems become more common.

Perfecting the science of quitting: The Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention has one of the most aggressive services in the country to help people reclaim their lives from nicotine addiction. Its tobacco “Quit Line” has handled more than 150,000 calls since 2001 and has helped thousands of Wisconsin residents quit smoking. The center’s statewide outreach program has placed nicotine cessation specialists in every region of the state. Specialty programs target high school and college students, and pediatricians — all focused on breaking the chain of addiction that kills more than 7,000 Wisconsinites each year.

Fighting the flu: Influenza remains one of the world’s most dangerous diseases, and the specter of a bird flu pandemic poses even greater urgency to the research community. Don’t be surprised if the next major advance in this public health battle comes from UW–Madison. Virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka is one of the world’s leading influenza scientists,and the $9 million Institute for Influenza Viral Research on campus gives him more sophisticated tools to unlock genetic secrets and find new targets for vaccines and drugs.

WLS: Since 1957, the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study has been chronicling the careers, family life, social habits, and aches and pains of more than 10,000 Wisconsin residents. The result? An incredibly rich look at the life and health of Americans from adolescence to the brink of retirement. The study allows researchers to put together a complete picture of how social, psychological, economic and biomedical information all play an interconnected role in human well-being.

It all started here: Embryonic stem-cell research has become a virtually universal symbol of biomedical promise, ethical challenge and political debate. In 1998, it began as a landmark discovery in the laboratory of UW–Madison scientist James Thomson. Since that historic day, UW–Madison has seized the opportunity to remain a leader in this incredibly promising field. The university has more than 80 scientists working in stem-cell research and leads the $16 million National Stem Cell Bank, helping share stem-cell lines with researchers across the country.

Battling food-borne illnesses: As food-related disease outbreaks become more common — in everything from beef to spinach — a new UW–Madison research team is working to stay one step ahead of the bugs. Scientists here are looking at ways to change the surface chemistry of materials and cooking surfaces to reduce microbial exposure to food, as well as safer methods of killing harmful bacteria. Food-borne pathogens account for 76 million illnesses each year.

Promoting healthy communities: As part of the School of Medicine and Public Health’s partnership with Blue Cross/Blue Shield United of Wisconsin, dozens of innovative public-health campaigns are being nurtured across Wisconsin. In 2013, 16 programs were funded to plan and implement new health efforts. Past projects include a diabetes care program in the Chippewa Valley; a youth gardening and healthy-eating project in Brown County; a park and green space expansion in inner-city Milwaukee to promote active lifestyles; and a “footprints to health” program in Wausau that helps families reduce child obesity.