Restoring Healthcare Innovation to Academic Medicine
As Chair of the Dermatology Department, Beth Drolet, MD, strives to promote collaborative research to tackle the challenges encountered during patient care. During her tenure, she has built a clinical and research infrastructure to collaborate across institutions and disciplines to harness diverse clinical and scientific expertise.
Driving Dr. Drolet’s efforts is the conviction that the best healthcare stems from a comprehensive understanding of disease. Thus, she seeks a “bench-to-bedside” [scientific to clinical] view of skin disease but with attention to how these conditions impact the patient as a whole. Using her own specialty as an example, Dr. Drolet explains,“Vascular anomalies almost always affect the skin, but most of the morbidity stems from multi-organ disease. I would never take care of a complex vascular anomaly patient by myself. I need all the experts—cardiologists, oncologists, geneticists, surgeons, and radiologists—to treat the patient as a whole person.”
Because of the collaborative environment of academic medicine, Dr. Drolet believes there is no better place to care for complex patients, explore the causes of their diseases, and design safer and more effective therapies.
“Prioritizing collaboration over competition will reignite innovation in healthcare and academics. Healthcare innovation belongs in academics. We often see the most complex conditions [“the sickest of patients”], and as physician-scientists and interdisciplinary teams of specialists, we have a broad spectrum of knowledge and perspectives all these resources and can see all sides of the issue. We need to partner better with industry to accelerate discovery and drive the quality and safety of treatment options.”
The Right Drug in the Right Place
Dr. Drolet specializes in vascular anomalies: malformations and tumors formed by abnormal blood vessels. Her research focuses on discovering the genes that cause these malformations so that targeted drug treatments can be developed. She has found that the genetic mutations that cause cancer are the same mutations that cause vascular birthmarks and other vascular anomalies.
“It’s a totally different paradigm. We used to think of birthmarks as developmental defects. Now that we know they’re genetic, we’ve opened so many new avenues for treatments.”
Using technology typically applied to cancer, Dr. Drolet’s team has demonstrated that many vascular anomalies are caused by postzygotic mosaic mutations, thereby identifying the causative mutations in 80% of patients. Her experience as a physician-scientist means Dr. Drolet can rapidly translate gene discovery into new therapeutic options. Currently, her team is pursuing inhibitors of the PI3K/AKT pathway and G-proteins with the goal of suppressing disease-causing oncogenes in vascular anomalies. Some existing drugs can also be repurposed to treat vascular anomalies. For example, many cancer drugs were developed to target a specific mutation, making them potentially even more effective against the isolated mutations that cause a vascular anomaly than against the of cascade of mutations that cause a cancer. Unfortunately, these cancer drugs do have negative side-effects, so Dr. Drolet is working to adapt them into formulations such as creams and injections that deliver the drug only the affected area. She serves as a principal investigator and on the clinical advisory board of a pharmaceutical and biotech company to develop one such topical treatment.
“This is the next frontier: delivering the right drug into the right tissue and limiting the drug exposure to normal tissues. We are always pushing the bar to limit the toxicity and improve patient safety. It’s usually babies and children that I am treating, and they are extremely vulnerable to toxicities. My main objective is to relieve and prevent symptoms while keeping these really vulnerable, tiny babies safe with and from the medications that they need.”
Active Clinical Trials
Practice locations UW Health (1 S. Park St, Madison WI 53715)
Link to Dr. Beth Drolet, MD and our Faculty list