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Archive for Tuesday, October 31, 2000

Physician at fore of KC efforts

Neurologist helps lead endeavor to make Kansas City a hub for biomedical research

October 31, 2000

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— At Monday's news conference unveiling plans for a new brain imaging center at the Kansas University Medical Center, Chancellor Robert Hemenway turned to a figure familiar to Kansas City media to explain the future of medicine.

Michael Welch is the scientist most often called upon to explain the future of medicine and the research process at news conferences and meetings.

"He has a God-given ability to break down complicated material and make it understandable to ordinary Joes like you and me," Hemenway said in an interview last week.

Welch, 58, a physician-neurologist who still sees patients, has been called the "human interface" between KU and the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute Inc., the umbrella organization working toward making Kansas City a world-class hub of biomedical research.

Welch balances a number of jobs at the Medical Center here.

He is vice chancellor of research for the Med Center, senior associate dean of research and graduate studies in the School of Medicine, and interim chairman of the neurology department.

"He's one of those guys who keeps doing more and more and more," said Donald Hagen, executive vice chancellor of the Med Center.

Welch's full academic resume runs 53 pages. He has written 223 peer-reviewed papers. The nationally recognized expert in migraine research also has received $19 million in research grants, the bulk of which has come from the National Institutes of Health.

NIH's $18 billion budget is one of the sources Welch and the Life Sciences Institute plan to tap for increased spending on biomedical research in Kansas City. They also hope to get funds from the National Science Foundation.

The goal is to increase research spending in 10 years to $500 million annually. Kansas City-area hospitals and research centers now receive about $261 million a year. The effort is expected to improve medical services in the Kansas City area and produce spin-off businesses.

"The Life Sciences Institute has embarked upon a very interesting sociological and social experiment," Welch said. "They wish to develop a new economy for the region."

That new economy would be based on biomedical technology, which is expected to radically transform the practice of medicine.

"Decoding the human genome is going to change the way we practice medicine from a paradigm of diagnosis and treatment to one of prediction and prevention," Welch said.

The human genome project finished mapping all of the chromosomes in the human body earlier this year. In future years, it will be possible to read each person's individual genetic map, or genome.

Welch said that would allow doctors to predict, for example, whether a patient will have a heart attack in his or her early 40s because of genetic disposition.

Welch is a nationally recognized researcher in the field of imaging technology. Among the grants he has received are funds for studies of the use of magnetic resonance imaging to predict strokes.

Spreading his arms and cupping one hand, Welch says, "There you have one part of the future: Imaging."

He cups the other hand.

"There you have the other part: Genomics."

He stands in between.

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