Hillsborough County is one step closer to becoming an epicenter of genetic research on the treatment for heart disease.
County commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to have the county economic development staff work with USF Health on an agreement that would provide up to $2 million for a heart institute at the University of South Florida. The institute would specialize in using patients' genetic makeup to create personalized treatment programs.
Earlier this week, the Florida Legislature agreed to include $7 million for the institute in the state's 2013 budget.
Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who has been working with USF Health officials on the project, said the institute and the products and businesses it spins off will "alter the DNA of our region's economy."
"This is the kind of research where there is a definite (economic) value linked to both genomic work and personalized medicine," Sharpe said after the meeting.
Dr. Stephen Klasko, chief executive officer of USF Health, also touted the economic development aspects of the project. Klasko, a physician who also has a master's degree in business administration, said he is passionate about "health care transformation that leads to economic benefits."
"Hillsborough County has the amazing opportunity to be literally the health care solutions county where tomorrow's health care is happening today," Klasko said.
The heart institute's work will revolve around understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms of cardiovascular diseases and developing personalized, targeted therapies.
Klasko said USF has already invested $7.1 million in cardiovascular research and personalized medicine, plus another $17.3 million on recruiting top professors and researchers in those fields.
USF is working on a partnership with the American College of Cardiology, which has a registry with 15 million patients' medical records. The registry will be the foundation of a joint investigation to link patients' clinical information and their electronic medical records to the patients' biological and blood samples.
The two organizations will then work on translating information from the registries into potential treatments for heart patients.
Klasko said 90 percent of genomic research has to do with science.
"The other 10 percent is exactly what Commissioner Sharpe said: It is the billions and billions and billions of dollars that are going to happen from translating those things into true benefits for patients," Klasko said.
As part of the heart institute project, USF Health has recruited Dr. Stephen Liggett, who Klasko said is one of five or six scientists in the country who have been successful in turning genomic research into economic benefit. Liggett, from the University of Maryland, has already landed several molecular genome grants, Klasko said.
"We need this $2 million once for kindling … to convince Dr. Liggett this is the right place to be, to convince the American College of Cardiology this is the right place to be," Klasko said.
Sharpe said the county staff and USF should have an agreement ready for commission approval in two weeks. The agreement will include an economic benefits analysis, he said.
In other business, commissioners voted to close after-school recreation programs at three neighborhood parks because of low attendance. The parks to be closed are Apollo Beach, Country Place and Progress Village. Fewer than five children had enrolled in the programs at each of those parks.
Mark Thornton, director of the Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department, said the county will work with the five families whose children attend those centers to enroll them in programs operated by the school board or non-profits.
After-school programs will continue at Carrollwood Meadows, Perrone, Timberlane, Kenly, Nuccio, Roy Haynes, Mango and Egypt Lake parks, as well as at eight regional parks. The after-school programs cost $1.37 million in this year's budget, with the county subsidizing a loss of $142,969.