From 1991 to 2000 the Department of Biochemistry was designated the first World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center in the Field of Osteoarthritis (Rheumatology) and trained over 60 young, as well as experienced, investigators in the area of cartilage/osteoarthritis research, who transferred the knowledge to other laboratories and to the practice of medicine in the field of rheumatology/orthopedic surgery throughout the world. This rich training tradition of the faculty continues and we host international fellows from Japan, Hungary, Germany and Australia. Our trainees thus benefit from being exposed to the true international flavor of science.
OA refers to a group of overlapping, but distinct, diseases of different etiologies with similar biologic, morphologic and clinical outcomes. Approximately 70% of the aging population suffers from OA. From 1987-2007, research in the Department was supported by a Specialized Center of Research (SCOR) grant from NIAMS. The SCOR at Rush was entitled "Osteoarthritis: A Continuum" and involved projects from cartilage metabolism to early detection and treatment of OA with Klaus Kuettner, PhD, as the program director from 1987 to 2002. In 2002, Theodore Oegema, PhD, became the department chair and the program director for the SCOR.
In order to recognize the importance of research and education in its mission, Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center was renamed Rush University Medical Center in 2004. Rush University, which includes Rush Medical College, the College of Nursing, the College of Health Sciences and the Graduate College, is dedicated exclusively to the preparation of professionals in health fields. Rush University trains physicians, nurses, allied health professionals and managers, as well as investigators in the biomedical sciences. There is a well-developed Rush tradition of interdisciplinary cooperation among academic physicians, attending physicians and non-physician basic scientists.
Peer-reviewed, investigator-initiated research is the heart of the basic research programs. Last year Rush investigators were awarded over $73.3 million in research awards, with over $51.4 million awarded by NIH. These basic and clinical research programs address current and emerging medical challenges, and have maintained the vitality of the academic departments. The Graduate College of Rush University promotes and assures excellence in educational programs in selected disciplines of the biomedical sciences. It enables students to work with the University graduate faculty to earn graduate degrees, with emphasis on the PhD degree in anatomy and cell biology, biochemistry, immunology/microbiology, neurological sciences, pharmacology and physiology. A new core curriculum was established in 2004 within the Graduate College. Faculty from the basic science divisions (listed above) cooperatively teach the basic core curriculum that presents the fundamental knowledge for our disciplines, that promotes communication skills (writing and oral presentation) and provides the first-year students with a wide range of experiences and knowledge.
The biochemistry training faculty also has extensive experience interacting with industry. For example, in 1998 the department entered into a unique five-year relationship with the pharmaceutical company, Glaxo Wellcome, that focused on methodology transfer, combined with an exchange and specific interaction between research scientists. Arrangements like this are of great benefit to the trainees in the Department of Biochemistry at Rush, since they are afforded an excellent opportunity to evaluate their future career decisions.
The Department of Biochemistry is closely linked to clinical departments, including rheumatology and orthopedic surgery. The biochemistry faculty and their trainees are provided with opportunities to interact with physicians on the faculties of rheumatology (under the leadership of Joel Block, MD) and Orthopedic Surgery (led by Joshua Jacobs, MD). The close association of our department with the Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network over the past 15 years has provided us access to human joints, including knee, ankle and spine. This unique access to human tissue has allowed us to begin to understand the properties of aging human cartilage, as well as to characterize the changes in cartilage with damage that may lead to OA.