Spring 2019
When Martha Clare Morris, ScD, came to Rush in 1992, there were very few studies of nutrition and dementia happening among researchers — but soon, she would change that.
“The field was just getting used to the idea that it wasn’t a genetic disease,” said Morris, now director of the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging and professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Rush Medical College. “I had to fight all of these biases and misconceptions about nutrition.”
A series of Morris’ studies that followed — revealing various nutrients associated with lower risk of Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline — would result in a pilot grant from the Rush Translational Sciences Consortium to measure diet among participants of the Memory and Aging Project of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center.
“That pilot funding played a large role in providing the preliminary data for securing quite a bit of outside funding to look at other nutrients in relation to brain neuropathology,” said Morris.
Her successful MIND diet has gained national attention as she leads a clinical trial to evaluate the link between diet and cognitive decline — all funded by $20 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health, or NIH.
“The financial support and resources at Rush planted the seeds for me to do big-time research, providing the core infrastructure needed to prove those misconceptions wrong and show the world that, yes, maybe there’s something more there.”
Pilot grants like Morris’ are only one of several pillars that uphold Rush’s strong research enterprise. Now, leveraging strategic collaboration and innovation, Rush is building upon this foundation to further anticipate and combat the greatest challenges in health care.

You really have to show that your research is going to save lives and save money, and we have always been very good at doing that at Rush.

Barb Swanson, PhD ’91/ CON, director of Rush University
College of Nursing’s PhD program

“Our research revenues have substantially increased despite the austere times,” said Joshua Jacobs, MD, vice provost for research at Rush University. “And I think that is a reflection of investments over the years that have come to fruition, including investments in pilot projects, mentorship programs and bridge funding that have allowed our researchers to succeed in a very tough funding environment.”

On the Shoulders of Research Giants

Today researchers at Rush are conducting more than 1,600 basic, clinical and population-based projects — from elucidating the underlying mechanisms of diseases and developing innovative treatments, to establishing interventions in the community that help people live healthier lives.
As Rush’s research enterprise continues to grow, so does the outside funding to carry forward more studies and trials. This is proven most strikingly by Rush’s momentous jump in NIH ranking during the last decade (from No. 84 to No. 58) — a feat unmatched by any other medical school in the nation.
Alongside Morris, several of Rush’s top researchers have played a critical role in the organization’s significant leap. Among them, Mary Hayden, MD, director of the Division of Clinical Microbiology, Rush Medical Laboratories, and professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Rush Medical College, now leads a $26 million effort sponsored by the CDC to study the treatment of drug-resistant infections.
And Elizabeth Berry-Kravis, MD, co-director of Rush’s Molecular Diagnostics Section of the Genetic Laboratory, and professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Rush Medical College, steers an NIH-funded $11.5 million trial to explore a drug to improve language learning in children with fragile X syndrome.
Like them, faculty across every college of the University are leading groundbreaking studies with the ability to transform health care and provide invaluable training experiences for our students.

Found in Translation

“You really have to show that your research is going to save lives and save money, and we have always been very good at doing that at Rush,” said Barb Swanson, PhD ’91/CON, director of Rush University College of Nursing’s PhD program. “If you can’t show that your research is going to somehow save costs, improve people’s lives or lead to a cure, it’s not going to get funded.”
Specifically in the College of Nursing, PhD nursing faculty and students are doing just that: finding ways to help people better manage diseases and provide more immediate remedies while enhancing quality of life.

Shannon Halloway, PhD ’16/CON, was the College of Nursing’s first postdoctoral research fellow, studying
relationships between physical activity and cognition in elderly Latinos.

“Nurses spend more time with patients than anybody else,” said Swanson. “We get a window into some of the issues that patients are facing that other providers don’t get, and consequently, we’re in a good position to try to find solutions to those problems.”

For example, Shannon Halloway, PhD ’16/CON (left), the College of Nursing’s first Golden Lamp Society postdoctoral research fellow, studied the relationship between physical activity and cognition in elderly Latinos, discovering that older people with heart disease are at greater risk for cognitive impairment or dementia — a fact that is even more pronounced in women.
Studies such as Halloway’s exemplify how research at Rush takes many shapes and forms, whether focused on quality improvement, preventive medicine, population-based research, clinical trials or, like Halloway’s, rooted in translational research.
“The future of research at Rush is a combination of basic and clinical research working hand-in-hand, generally referred to as translational research,” said Tom Champagne, chief research administrator for Rush University Medical Center.
“It’s truly the proper mix of translational research that prioritizes patient-centric outcomes and human health; all the while, affording the opportunity for exploration and novel research.”
Halloway, whose work as a PhD student was supported by a scholarship from the Golden Lamp Society, arguably struck that exact, winning combination.
“Without a doubt, Rush’s balance of patient care, research and education is deeply important for my work and cannot be replicated anywhere else,” said Halloway, who plans to continue her work next year as an assistant professor in Rush University’s College of Nursing.

Sound Investments

Halloway’s fellowship — largely funded by gifts from nursing alumni and faculty, as well as the College of Nursing’s dean’s office — is just one example of the external investments made across Rush that help propel the research work and professional development of students.
The Rush Medical College Summer Research Fellowship Program — sponsored by the Rush Medical College Alumni Association — offers a six-week fellowship program to students who work with Rush faculty on a basic science or clinical research project, or who are engaged in a unique community service project. And the program culminates with a poster presentation at the annual Rush Research Forum.
In the Graduate College at Rush, the Initiative to Maximize Student Development — an NIH-funded PhD training grant for underrepresented minority students — is one example of how the college integrates scientific and professional training activities to ensure students are fully prepared to complete a PhD program and enter the biomedical workforce.
“The goal of a research-based graduate education is to train nascent researchers how to think critically and analytically,” said Andrew Bean, PhD, dean of the Graduate College. “Because this training is focused on problem solving, rather than clinical skills, research-based students supplement their research training with career development activities that prepare them to put their skills to use in a variety of career paths.”

On the Inside Looking Out

Building upon its research enterprise, Rush is helping lead a new health research accelerator in the Chicago area. With a $35 million Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health, the Institute for Translational Medicine, or ITM, helps drive research breakthroughs and bring those discoveries into the real world to improve health as soon as possible.
The ITM is a partnership between Rush and the University of Chicago, in collaboration with Advocate Health Care, the Illinois Institute of Technology, Loyola University Chicago and NorthShore University HealthSystem.
This consortium is fueled by funding from the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, or NCATS, over the next five years to help researchers, the public, government, industry and nonprofits work together to improve the health of the entire Chicago area.
“Institutions that don’t get these kinds of grants are often on the outside looking in,” said James Mulshine, an associate director within the ITM and former acting dean of the Graduate College at Rush. “And we don’t want to be there; we want to be on the inside looking out.”
The ITM is part of a network of more than 55 hubs across the country supported by NCATS’ Clinical and Translational Science Awards Program, bringing local and national education, funding and resources to the Rush community.
Through this network, Rush also gains access to a larger patient population in which experts can conduct more thorough clinical and translational research — a crucial resource at a time when less than 10 percent of Americans are participating in health research.

“One of the major limitations in clinical research has been accruing a sufficient number of patients so that you can have the appropriate sample size to make definitive findings,” said Jacobs, who is also one of three ITM principal investigators.

“By doing multi-center studies, particularly on a common platform through these large research consortiums, the efficacy of clinical and translational research is greatly facilitated, enhancing our ability to positively impact clinical care.”

While the ITM gives Rush access to a large network of clinical researchers as well as other grant mechanisms that it would otherwise not have, Rush University students are no exception.
“Through this grant, students get access to national best practice for everything they need to do, which is critical because they are held to a very high level of competition,” said Mulshine. “And that prepares them for life beyond Rush when they can conduct the very best kind of research.”

‘We’re not an ivory tower institution’

Christy Tangney, PhD, professor, Departments of Clinical Nutrition and Preventive Medicine, and associate dean in Rush’s College of Health Sciences, knows well the challenges and triumphs of research.
“The world is changing, and we have to lead that change in the world,” said Tangney, whose research explores dietary behaviors of individuals and population samples in relation to cardiovascular and cognitive health. “That’s one of the best things that Rush has to offer; we’re not an ivory tower institution that’s unrelated to clinical practice and caring for patients. We are in the community as well as in a hospital setting.”
A prime example is Rush’s Building Healthy Urban Communities initiative, under the direction of the college’s own Tricia Johnson, PhD, professor of health systems management. Established in 2013 by a $5 million grant from BMO Harris Bank, the initiative includes a fellowship program that develops this exact kind of health care researcher — one who creates new, sustainable ways to provide access to care for Chicago’s underserved communities. The BMO Harris Bank Health Disparities Research Fellows identify health care barriers in schools, clinics and neighborhoods, as well as build the preventive care solutions to improve health outcomes soon after the challenges are identified.
“The truth is, Rush was doing translational research way before the term was out there,” said Swanson. “We’ve always done work where it’s clear the outcomes would benefit specific patient populations or society as a whole.”
As the organization continues to lead change within the realm of research, and as part of the University’s 2017-2022 strategic plan, Rush will not only build upon its current research strengths but invest in the infrastructure necessary to become the national leader in health sciences scholarship and discovery.
“This is about creating a professional environment of biomedical research where we’re always aspiring to operate at the level of national best practice, and there’s an understanding that it takes teams to do this complex problem solving,” said Mulshine. “The blended contributions of all health professionals will be essential to drive the rapid pace of innovation required to address our urgent health care challenges.”
Alumni and students: What’s your research success story? Tell us via email or social media, using #RushUMag: