But the Scollicks didn't know they were headed for an even more severe health challenge.
They were still living in a motorhome when Bob, 72, began experiencing scrambled memory and disorientation. He was soon diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease at Sun Health in Sun City.
Not long afterward, the retired IBM computer repairman learned of an Alzheimer's study and signed up.
Arizona's booming medical research community sees Bob's simple act as its elusive key to success. With so many public and private studies under way - conservative estimates put the number at more than 800 - researchers have had to invent new ways to find participants.
One tool, the Arizona Alzheimer's Registry, debuted Friday.
Possibly the most ambitious statewide effort yet to link participants to research, the database is aimed at recruiting subjects for all research conducted by the eight institutional members of the Arizona Alzheimer's Consortium. The non-profit boasts 150 researchers and 500 research grants, according to its director, Dr. Eric Reiman, who also heads Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Phoenix.
"We're hoping to develop the largest clinical-trials resource in the world," Reiman said. "Our goal is to end Alzheimer's in the next 12 years."
In sight of a cure
The registry is expected to reduce the time it takes to complete study enrollment by 300 percent. Individuals who sign up remain on file for other studies, even if they don't qualify for the initial one.
It's the brainchild of Dr. Pierre Tariot of Banner and Dr. Marwan Sabbagh of Sun Health in Sun City, both distinguished researchers attracted to the Valley by its growing bioscience synergy.
Their success depends considerably on how many people walk through the door.
Tariot said the registry is unique in the nation because it represents so many Alzheimer's research centers. The approach echoes a collaborative characteristic of many Arizona research initiatives, such as the Southwest Oncology Group, which keeps a directory on cancer studies, and the Arizona Cancer Center, which lists 200 trials on its Clinical Trials Directory.
"People ask me why I came here," Tariot said. "Here's an example: You have an idea, and very rapidly, friends and colleagues identify public dollars to make it happen."
Medical research revs up
The new registry highlights the Valley's research explosion. "For a city its size, Phoenix was underserved for cutting-edge research," said Dr. David Alberts, director of the Arizona Cancer Center. "But now, it's much better served because of the new research
Wet labs and clinical research hubs are rising to house a growing number of biotech pioneers discovering Arizona. Boosters talk not only of curing Alzheimer's but cancer and diabetes, too.
Dr. Joan Rankin Shapiro, head of research at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, said the research investment is a result of population growth attracting researchers in need of a critical mass of patients.
"Any physician interested in doing clinical trials has an ample population here," she said.
St. Joseph's Barrow Neurological Institute is running more than 70 clinical trials.
"More than Harvard," Rankin said.
More studies mean more access to them for Arizonans. Ongoing developments bode well:
- Banner Alzheimer's Institute, up only since October, has nine 2007 studies that examine an array of treatments, and dozens more will be part of a broad portfolio of work designed to delay or prevent Alzheimer's and improve function of people with dementia due to the disease.
- Dr. Laurence Miller, research director at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, said Mayo is running 300 clinical trials, 13 of them early stage trials, of which there was none a year ago.
- Dr. Jessica Boklan, head of cancer research at Phoenix Children's Hospital, came from Memorial Sloan Kettering five years ago and has opened 89 clinical trials since then.
- Arizona is up for a $70 million research grant from the National Institutes of Health written jointly by TGen and most of the other research entities in the state.
- Arizona State University and Gateway Community College are creating new degree programs to meet the demand for clinical research coordinators.
One volunteer ready
It appears the Scollicks landed in Arizona at the right time.
Bob has enrolled in a study at Banner. The multiyear brain-imaging study requires a CT scan, MRI, spinal tap and monthly blood work. He tried to enroll in drug trials but has been turned down because his condition was not right for any of them.
"It probably can't help me, but it can help my kids and generations to come," Bob said. "I'm open to anything they have that I can qualify for. I don't mind dying. But, meanwhile, I'm doing everything I can."