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Published on February 15, 2022

erik ehli and assistant

Avera’s Research Arm Evolves with New Growth

For Avera, innovation and research go hand in glove.

More than 150 professionals work within Avera’s research pillars to evolve everything from cancer treatments to genetics and new COVID-19 treatments. The research is both translational, impacting patients directly at the bedside, and academic, to advance the science of medicine.

Avera evolved its research under four key pillars to serve our patients and communities.

  • Avera Research Institute
  • Avera Cancer Institute – Research
  • Avera Institute for Human Genetics
  • Alumend

Recent growth led to reorganization within these pillars to better represent what each team is doing.

“Avera started its Research Institute in 1998 to provide more advanced, cutting-edge treatment options as well as improve overall health and wellness – which is at the core of the Avera mission,” said Ryan Hansen, Executive Director of the Avera Research Institute.

“All of these separate pillars function completely independently of each other, yet we strive to work cohesively and collaborate to advance all of our strategic research initiatives to benefit the communities we serve,” he continued.

Avera Research Institute

Community-based research and non-oncology clinical trials fall under the Avera Research Institute — previously named Avera Center for Pediatric and Community Research. Amy Elliott, PhD, leads the team, which is based in Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Pine Ridge, S.D.

“This really came into its own during COVID-19. We’ve had opportunities to work on groundbreaking trials that became part of standard treatment, including monoclonal antibodies and antiviral medications. On the horizon we see growth in the areas of pediatrics, women’s health, orthopedics, neurology and more,” said Elliott, Chief Clinical Research Officer of the Avera Research Institute.

This team also continues research work as part of national networks, including Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO).

“It is a perfect fit for Dr. Elliott and her team to carry forward the advancement of this vision outside of cancer,” Hansen said.

Avera Cancer Institute – Research

Cancer research and clinical trials have been sectioned off under the Avera Cancer Institute and the leadership of John Lee, MD, Clinical Medical Officer for Cancer Research.

Avera cancer research is focusing on emerging areas of treatment including cancer targeted therapy, cellular therapy and immunotherapy.

“Avera is poised to become well-known and sought after for its cancer services in the region and nation. Through research we are discovering and developing new avenues of hope for cancer patients and their families,” Lee said.

Lee’s group initiated a program to expand access to genomic testing earlier in the disease process through collaboration with Sema4, a health intelligence company. By getting these cancers sequenced early, the patient will have access to targeted drugs even earlier in treatment. Another key emphasis is extending access to cancer clinical trials to the six cancer centers across the Avera footprint.

Avera Institute for Human Genetics

The Avera Institute for Human Genetics was founded in 2007.

“Its premise from the outset was to understand genetics and the primary role it would play in the future of medicine,” Hansen said. AIHG has established itself as a world-class research laboratory working with collaborators across the globe through various scientific initiatives focused on the genetics of complex diseases and traits. This has positioned AIHG to advance care through genetic testing for providers in serving their patients’ needs through a variety of precision medicine initiatives.

AIHG has been integral in supporting the health system through COVID-19 testing as well as surveillance of variants within the region through genetic sequencing.

In the future, AIHG will be working with the Avera Cancer Institute and their research team to provide tumor profiling and hereditary testing.

“We’re also working with our laboratory service line to identify additional strategic opportunities to leverage our resources and capabilities to provide quicker turnaround times and better service for our clinicians and their patients through additional genetic testing,” Hansen said.

Alumend

Alumend is a product development pillar of research at Avera utilizing a proprietary technology invented by Ron Utecht, PhD, Alumend Chief Scientific Officer. Alumend has licensed its novel drug/device combination treatment for vascular applications to Alucent Medical.

Alucent’s first product for the treatment of peripheral arterial disease is currently in human clinical trials. Alucent is also working on a related product to treat arteriovenous (AV) fistula.

Alumend is moving forward with its first non-vascular application of the technology for treatment of urethral strictures.

Learn more about how our research is moving health forward at Avera.org/Research

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Avera is a health ministry rooted in the Gospel. Our mission is to make a positive impact in the lives and health of persons and communities by providing quality services guided by Christian values.

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