Our research community just completed the 31st Annual Rush University Forum for Research and Clinical Investigation in which we celebrated the research activities of the Rush students, faculty and collaborators. It is a critical time to cherish our collective research productivity, as federal funding for biomedical research has fallen 25% in actual buying power over the last several years. Coupled with the declines in commercial R&D support and challenges to clinical revenues, funding for biomedicine has never been more stretched. At Rush, every faculty member is touched by this challenge.
Having moved through the majority of the current fiscal year, our awards from NIH have actually grown and other aspects non-federal research funding have held steady as well. However, the future holds considerable more challenge for our traditional biomedical funding models. Yet there are strategies that we have adapted to facilitate success in this bruising environment. The first and most important is to proactively pursue strategic faculty collaborations with other successful researchers (both across the campus and beyond) to enhance the depth of the team investigating the proposed or funded research question. Despite the small size of our campus, we are constantly looking for better ways to enhance communication across our faculty. The faculty’s recent work in reviewing and awarding the pilot grants funded by the Swim Across America Foundation is an example of such cooperation. This activity will inject $300,000 into launching new research questions. The highest scored proposals are being finally reviewed by our funding partner and when that process is concluded those awards will be announced.
Our Alzheimer’s research faculty has had a profoundly productive spring. A research collaboration of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center reported a major finding about a new neuroprotective mechanism in the journal, Nature, which may be central to accelerated cognitive decline. Another one of their papers was highlighted in a Wall Street Journal editorial outlining the broader and stunning mortality impact of that disease. Finally, another report in the prominent health policy journal, Health Affairs, outlined the underappreciated challenge with health disparities experienced by African Americans relative to Alzheimer’s mortality. The impact of these Rush investigators is driving a national dialogue in galvanizing our society into more productive efforts with this emerging public health crisis.
Rush has taken a large step forward into the world of big data and rapid learning in response to this public health crisis. Under the leadership of Drs. Julio Silva, Raj Shah, Shannon Sims, Jane Welch and Bala Hota, Rush is part of a pan-Chicago effort called the Chicago Area Patient Center Research Network (CAPriCORN). Rush successfully partnered with all other regional academic medical centers and other health institutions such as the University HealthSystems Consortium to be selected as a national data center for the Patient Centered Outcome Research Institute’s (PCORI) new patient data resource. This $7.5 million grant award is to create the data transfer infrastructure to support the sharing and analysis of de-identified patient information for greater than a million patients from across Chicago. CAPriCORN is part of an 11 award national information network which has the potential to fundamentally restructure the biomedical and patient care landscape in this country. CAPriCORN’s goal is to advance sustainable, scalable paradigms for patient-oriented research. Clearly an exciting new opportunity for the Rush faculty to collaborate with other national research leaders in bringing health innovations to the diverse people and communities we serve.