Tribune editorial board: Health science collaboration still paying dividends
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Tribune editorial board: Health science collaboration still paying dividends

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You probably don’t drive by it.

You probably don’t know its history.

And you probably don’t know what goes on inside the six-level, 168,555-square-foot building at 13th and Badger streets in La Crosse.

But the research partnership announced last week between Mayo Clinic Health System and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse is just the sort of science-forward alliance envisioned when the $27 million Health Science Center opened in 2000.

The La Crosse Medical Health Science Consortium was considered revolutionary at a time when teaming up wasn’t in vogue. From the beginning, it consisted of Mayo and Gundersen health systems, UW-L, Viterbo University and Western Technical College. The School District of La Crosse and the La Crosse County Health Department have since joined. The Health Science Center was the Consortium’s first collaborative project.

The center is home to dynamic, collaborative research and education programs, including a high school academy for local students, as well as a student health center for students at UW-L and Western.

The new research partnership between Mayo and UW-L — which will utilize facilities at the Health Science Center as well as the new $82 million Prairie Springs science building on campus — strengthens our community’s status as a leader in collaborative science research.

“We believe this relationship will help to draw the best and brightest physicians, faculty, staff and students to the La Crosse area,” Mayo Regional Vice President Paul Mueller said. “This agreement will benefit our patients and make life better for all La Crosse area residents.”

Mayo researchers and university students and faculty will work together in such research fields as kinesiology, nutrition and disparities in health outcomes.

Mark Sandheinrich, dean of UW-L’s College of Science and Health, says the partnership complements the university’s alliance with local health care providers through the Health Science Consortium and means “our students will especially benefit from the increased opportunities for undergraduate experiences that this agreement presents.”

As Mueller says, the research will benefit patients while providing hands-on research experience for students.

Mueller, a Winona native who is finishing his first year as Mayo’s top executive in the region, certainly deserves credit for seeing and pursuing the opportunity.

But the groundwork for such health-science collaboration in La Crosse began two decades ago.

Catherine Kolkmeier, executive director of the La Crosse Medical Health Science Consortium who started her career in science (biology) says: “The Health Science Center was a major undertaking, brought about in a time when collaboration of that scale was not nearly as common in this community as it is today. Today it is expected that our institutions will work together to tackle major issues.” That expectation has helped La Crosse grow into a leader in collaborative science education.

The center is home to plenty of crucial work, including Gundersen’s Kabara Cancer Research Institute and its BioBank.

The physician assistant program is a partnership of UW-L, Gundersen and Mayo, and is considered one of the most competitive PA programs in the nation. The program recently expanded its space at the Health Science Center in order to accommodate and educate more students. Science-related programming has boomed at Viterbo and Western, which have very successful, growing nursing programs. And roughly a fifth of UW-L’s student body, 2,000 students, are pursuing careers in the health sciences.

World-class health care and high-quality education continue to provide a strong foundation for the health, welfare and commerce of our community.

It shows the vision, teamwork and investment continue to pay off.

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