Opinion

Health care funding is a real life-saver

By State Rep. Skip Priest, R-District 30

Health care and its costs — these are two of the most important issues facing Washington.

In its first round of grants, announced in September, the Life Sciences Discovery Fund (LSDF) is addressing both: Improving health care quality and containing costs. At the same time, the fund is investing for a healthy future in Washington. By directing dollars to the state’s outstanding research organizations, LSDF is helping to build competitiveness and thus promoting Washington’s economic well-being.

All of these benefits are strategically addressed in the fund’s comprehensive approach to grant-making.

Take a heart attack, for example. Speed matters. If, when a patient is suffering emergency distress, doctors could more rapidly determine that he or she has suffered a heart attack, they could begin essential life-saving care earlier. The sooner the damage can be contained, the less likely it is that the patient will suffer the secondary complications of cardiac arrest, the less the condition may require expensive treatment procedures, the less time they need to spend in the hospital, and the sooner the patient is able to return to normal health.

Imagine the value of a quick, portable, economical test to provide this rapid diagnostic information.

One of LSDF’s first grants is going to a Washington State University (WSU) research team working to develop just such a test. Chemists and engineers at WSU are developing a device to analyze markers in blood that will give doctors up-to-the-minute information about cardiac health. This means better outcomes for the patient and less waste for the system. But it also means potential research advancement in microchip technology for WSU and the possible commer-cialization benefits of a new diagnostic tool for improved emergency care.

Or take type 1 diabetes. Except for Sweden, Washington has a greater incidence of type 1 diabetes than anywhere else in the world. Most cases occur in families with no history of the disease. So the discovery of diabetes in their child is often an emotional shock to parents. More critically, it is often accompanied by serious undiagnosed illness, emergency visits, severe insulin deficiency and coma.

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest Research Institute are using LSDF funds to work with parents in 27 Washington counties to test newborn blood for higher-than-normal type 1 diabetes risk. With the information derived from such a test, parents can anticipate the onset of disease, prepare appropriately, and minimize the surprise and the costs associated with diagnosis when it occurs. Even better, the test researchers have devised is quick and inexpensive. Once validated by research, the institute hopes the test can be adopted as part of Washington’s routine newborn screening protocol administered to all infants born in the state.

In addition to new approaches to heart disease and type 1 diabetes, LSDF-funded projects are also aimed at improving surgical practices and results, breast cancer diagnosis, medication management and stroke treatment. The potential health benefits are considerable. So, too, are the multiple

economic benefits that have the potential to flow from LSDF grants: Additional grant and investment revenue, product commercialization, new company and job formation, the development of new markets for research discoveries, and a whole host of other business activities accompanying the funded research.

It is this blend of health and economic benefits that compounds LSDF’s value for Washington citizens. As a member of the Legislature when the Fund was established, I currently serve on its board of trustees. As such, I have been able to watch it grow from a policy idea to a strategically-focused organization. It’s exciting to see that some of the first funds granted by LSDF are going to projects that have the potential to save lives and promote economic investment in Washington.

There are exciting discoveries ahead with the fund’s 10-year mission just beginning. In April, the LSDF will receive the first $35 million installment the state committed to reach the fund’s goals. With the project funding under way, we have every reason to believe that the LSDF will use the additional dollars to create multiple benefits for citizens that improve health care quality, increase cost effectiveness in care delivery, and promote the competitive leadership of Washington’s life sciences.

Skip Priest is a state representative for District 30, which includes Federal Way. Contact: (360) 786-7830 or priest.skip@leg.wa.gov.

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