SUN CITY, Ariz. -- When Dr. Marwan Sabbagh left Banner Sun Health Research Institute last year, the Sun City area lost a familiar name in Alzheimer’s disease research and treatment.
The work of the clinic Sabbagh headed remained intact.
More than six months later, the institute not only has continued its world-class Alzheimer’s work, but it’s broadened the scope of services to the community with an expanded team of experts, each with a deep resume and a passion for treating neurological disorders while helping those individuals and their caregivers navigate the challenges of these life-changing illnesses.
“The mission has not changed. I think a lot of people associated this clinic with Dr. Sabbagh; he’d been here for years and made a true impact in this community, and so I think there’s misconception that with him gone, there’s nobody to give this kind of care anymore. There is a team of very talented passionate individuals here,” said Banner Health spokeswoman Jennifer Fenter, who arranged meetings with five individuals central to the success of the institute in its expanded scope of operation.
Opened in 1988, the institute eventually gained attention as a center for Alzheimer’s research. Over the years, its accomplishments have included research on inflammation damage to brain tissue and how that affects Alzheimer's disease and conducting clinical trials in innovations to treat symptoms of Parkinson's disease and slow its progression. It maintains collaborations with other nationally recognized centers, such as JohnsHopkinsUniversity, BostonUniversity and the University of Washington.
“The focus is always on excellence in clinical care and in being at the forefront of research in beating Alzheimer’s disease. We do that by participating in clinical drug trials and ways of earlier diagnosis, even sometimes before symptoms arise; where can we intervene and at what point,” said Dr. Ed Zamrini, medical director of the institute’s Cleo Roberts Alzheimer’s and Movement Disorder Clinic since July.
A geriatric and cognitive neurologist with more 25 years' experience in clinical management of Alzheimer's disease and related disorders, Zamrini said he was drawn to the institute in part by its efforts – along with Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in downtown Phoenix -- to predict Alzheimer’s by attempting to analyze individuals before experiencing full-blown symptoms.
“If they come in at an early stage, we can educate them about what to look for as far as schemes for intervention, for example, not preventing them from driving but suggesting when it’s time for a driving evaluation. Earlier diagnosis (also) helps those around the patient to better understand their behavior,” Zamrini explained.
While research and diagnostics have always played central roles, the institute has other focuses as well, including patient care and education.
“We have a social-worker outreach coordinator, exercise physiologist, cognitive neurologist, and geriatric psychiatrist all under one roof, noted Dr. David Shprecher, a neurologist and another new clinic doctor. Shprecher, who directs the Movement Disorders Program, oversees patient care and clinical-research studies.
He previously served as head of the movement disorders division at the University of Utah and specializes in diagnosis, treatment and research for movement disorders including Parkinson’s disease, tics and Tourette’s syndrome, Huntington’s disease, dystonia, tremors, progressive supranuclear palsy, and multiple-system atrophy. He also is trained in experimental theraputics.
Like Zamrini, Shprecher has previous ties to colleagues in the Valley, but he said his main draw was Banner Sun Health Research Institute’s world-renowned brain and body donation program. Begun in 1987 in Sun City, the program is a collaboration with the Mayo Clinic in northeast Phoenix and sends samples around the world for study. More than 3,000 people have enrolled as donors and more than 1,400 have come to autopsy, according to Banner Health.
“Currently, the only way a definite diagnosis of any degenerative condition of the brain can be made is at an autopsy,” Shprecher observed.
“With all the neuro-degenative diseases, there is no definitive test that is 100 percent accurate during life. When people are in the later stages, the brain has declined so much it’s much harder to treat or develop a cure.”
Some of the biggest changes to the clinic will occur in the addition of what Dr. Peter Taylor refers to as “holistic” approaches. Taylor said this could include addressing some of the behavioral effects of dementia – such as sleep problems, anxiety and depression – with music and art therapy.
At 38, Taylor is one of the younger staff members. A geriatric psychiatrist, whose more than six years’ experience in the field includes time as a staff psychiatrist in New Mexico’s VA Healthcare System, Taylor earned his Master’s degree in bioethics at Glendale’s MidwesternUniversity.
“I think we’re going to grow in the areas of how we support you as you deal with this illness and how we support your family member who has to pick up all the slack as it progresses,” he said, adding one of the foremost goals is to help keep dementia, Alzheimer’s and other patients at home – where they feel most comfortable – for as long as possible.
“Around 90 percent of people with dementia, at some point during the illness, have some type of symptom linked to caregiver stress and nursing-home placement. So, I think everything we can do to help caregivers, spouses and children deal with this illness and forecast behavior or address with medicine can make a significant change in how this illness is dealt with.”
Two other staff members round out the clinic additions.
Dr. Ming-Jai Liu, a board-certified neurologist specializing in the care of Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders, joined the team in July, and Marina Reade, a nurse practitioner, joined Banner Sun Health Research Institute in January 2015 as a provider.
Liu recently completed two years of specialty training as the Evlyn Kossak Movement Disorders Fellow under the guidance of Dr. Abraham Lieberman at the prestigious MuhammadAliParkinsonCenter in Phoenix. His repertoire of treatment options for various disorders includes deep brain stimulation. He addresses an array of conditions, including migraine headaches. A number of conditions can become intertwined. For example, if a Parkinson’s patient lives long enough, it’s likely he or she will develop dementia, he said.
Despite his range of expertise, Liu said he’s perfectly comfortable providing consultation.
“If they already have an established relationship with their primary care physician or general neurologist and they want to see me once every six months, I welcome that, too.
Reade has 14 years’ experience in the fields of oncology, bone-marrow transplant, acute rehabilitation, neurology and research. She previously served in family practice clinics in Phoenix and Goodyear.
Once a patient has left the clinic doors, they’re never out of touch with some type of assistance connected to the Banner Sun Health Research Institute. Reade said the clinic provides recommendations for support groups and referrals to social workers.
“If they need a lot more counseling in terms of depression; if they’re severely depressed, if there’s a lot of martial conflict, domestic violence -- then I refer them our social worker,” she said.
“Caregivers and patients really need a lot of education and support. If you can provide the right education and prepare them for what to expect, they will have the best quality of life they can.”
For further information about the Cleo Roberts Alzheimer’s and Movement Disorder Clinic or Banner Sun Health Research Institute, call 623-832-6530. You can find out more online by visiting http://www.bannerhealth.com/ and clicking on the “Locations” tab.
The institute, including the clinic, is located at 10515 W. Santa Fe Dr., Sun City.
Contact reporter Jeff Grant at 623-876-2514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.