Miller School and Sylvester faculty shared innovation at the BioFlorida Conference

For three days, faculty members from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center led presentations and shared innovations at the BioFlorida Conference.

Norma Sue Kenyon, Ph.D. stands at podium speaking.
Norma Sue Kenyon, Ph.D.

The Miller School is no stranger to discovery: The school leads Florida in National Institutes of Health research awards, with $153 million received in the current cycle. Some of the Miller School’s innovative advances throughout the year included designing individualized artificial intelligence for diagnosis and developing virtual reality tools to better deal with children’s emotions. There have also been collaborations, such as members of Sylvester working with faculty of the University’s College of Engineering on ways to develop and deploy innovative technologies for early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.

“The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and the health system had a significant presence at the conference as we showcased our talent in research and innovation,” said Norma Sue Kenyon, Ph.D., vice provost for innovation and chief innovation officer for the Miller School. “The eight presentations covered a variety of necessary themes and showed why the Miller School continues to be a leader in academic medicine in areas such as cancer, technology, and much more.”

Medical Innovation

Jeffrey Duerk, Ph.D.
Jeffrey Duerk, Ph.D.

Key talks from the event included Jeffrey Duerk, Ph.D., executive vice president for academic affairs, provost, and chief academic officer, who gave the keynote address, “Connecting Academics, Research and Industry in Florida and on the Global Stage.” Dr. Duerk offered advice to academic institutions and discussed how corporate partners and universities can support long-term, sustainable, productive industry relationships that impact biotech and the BioFlorida mission.

Dr. Duerk also addressed how corporate partners can keep their perspective and leverage university talent and the needs of academia while myth busting about pace and challenges.

“There is perhaps no better city to host BioFlorida and discussions on different cultures finding ways to interact productively than Miami,” Dr. Duerk said. “Here, the focus was on the industry and academic cultures by supporting mutual understanding to create a thriving biotech community in Florida.”

Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., director of Sylvester, executive dean for research, and Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in cancer research, gave a presentation on “Cancer Care Advances from the Perspective of Physician and Patient” with Sylvester patient Camille Moses, a 10-year survivor of metastatic pancreatic cancer who went to Sylvester seeking world-class medical care. Moses spoke about how Sylvester’s tailored approach and precision medicine have allowed her to live a normal life.

The group stands in front of a screen and smiles at the camer.
From left: Stephen D. Nimer, M.D.; Nancy Bryan, BioFlorida president and CEO; Camille Moses; and Rep. Christopher Sprowls (R-FL).

“We cannot stress enough the importance of academic health systems and university-based cancer centers in making discoveries and bringing together the best minds to provide optimal multidisciplinary care for patients like Camille,” Dr. Nimer said. “We have made great progress in cancer prevention, in diagnosing cancer earlier, and in delivering more precise treatments, while beginning to utilize artificial intelligence and machine learning to read scans and analyze big data sets.”

Several other Miller School faculty members also participated, including Mohamed Abou Shousha, M.D., Ph.D., who spoke on the future of digital health. Tracy Crane, Ph.D., RDN, led a talk on emerging therapies for cancer treatment along with Francis Hornicek, M.D., Ph.D., and Joshua M. Hare, M.D., presented on cell therapy research.

“Our speakers were compelling and dynamic,” Dr. Kenyon said. “In addition, several U Innovation advisors were on key business panels at the meeting, including Steve Glover, Jackson Streeter, and Bob Williamson. At the board of directors meeting, held after the conference, there was consensus that this was the best BioFlorida meeting to date, with great program content and everyone ready to meet in person again.”

Technology Advancements

Always striving for medical excellence, the Miller School has numerous projects in the works that demonstrate its commitment to advancing the medical field. The school is seeing a focus on digital health, extended reality, artificial intelligence, and machine learning-based projects, as seen with the digital twins sensor study and a machine learning approach study for tumors.

The continued growth in externally sponsored research supported by The Coulter Center for Translational Research, as in the case of cell therapy startups Longeveron and Zyversa, will lead to additional innovations and commercial potential. To further support research efforts, the Miller School has created a fellowship that engages graduate students in connecting research to technology transfer and other parts of U Innovation. The students learn about different aspects of commercialization and help connect more faculty to U Innovation.

“Creativity, speed, and recognizing that we need partners to disseminate our technology remain a cornerstone of UM’s future innovation,” Dr. Duerk added. “Additionally, interdisciplinary team science, both at the research project level and team formation skills level, remains pivotal to our future. The University currently directly invests around $2 million per year in interdisciplinary team science formation and initial collaborations, and far greater amounts in new faculty recruits who share this vision.”

Tags: BioFlorida, Dr. Francis Hornicek, Dr. Joshua Hare, Dr. Mohamed Abou Shousha, Dr. Norma Sue Kenyon, Dr. Stephen Nimer, Dr. Tracy Crane, NIH funding, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center