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Graduate College Update February 2017

In this time of  tumult, it is important to celebrate when things go right. One of those things is research at Rush. A summary of NIH funding to academic medical centers was just released, and Rush is ranked 58th in the nation for total allocated NIH dollars. Not too long ago, Rush’s rank was 84th. This jump of 26 steps over the last decade was not equaled by any other academic medical center. The most critical in this has been the success of our faculty in bringing forward and completing meritorious research.

Over the last year, Rush has benefitted from the remarkable success of a number of women faculty with significant NIH awards. This included Dr. Martha Clare Morris leading a fourteen and a half million dollar national clinical trial to evaluate the link between diet and cognitive decline. Dr. Elizabeth Berry-Kravis leading an eleven and a half million dollar trial to explore the impact of a drug in improving the language learning in children with fragile X syndrome. Dr. Mary Hayden is leading the Rush participation in a  twenty six million dollar effort sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with five other major sites nationally to study the threat of drug resistant infections.

In addition, Dr. Lisa Barnes was recently awarded another renewal of her highly impactful R01, Racial Differences in Late-Life Cognitive Decline and Risk of Alzheimer's Disease. Dr. Lena Al-Harthi also recently was notified of the award of her fourth RO1 extending the breadth of her critical research into the neuropathogenic mechanisms underpinning HIV. Also, Dr. Al-Harthi is also the Principal Investigator working  with our College’s Associate Dean, Dr. Cs-Szabo, on our critical NIH PhD training grant. These capable researchers have all been at Rush for their full faculty careers.

For the Graduate College, this remarkable faculty success creates new niches for students to explore in areas of research strength while completing the requirements of their research degree. Rush is a dynamic, high-quality health care environment that is ideal for studying complex translational challenges in a real-world urban setting. This robust training environment is highly regarded, as our doctoral graduates are routinely recruited to go on to further research opportunities in leading national and international research centers.

Over the last few years in Chicago, there has been a growing collaborative interaction across academic medical centers. For example, the joint federally funded electronic health record data resource, the Chicago Area Patient Center Outcomes Research Network (CAPriCORN) involves  all of the Chicago academic medical centers. These collaborative bioinformatics efforts span both research and care, and “big data” studies are emerging as a critical way to address complex medical problems. The Graduate College faculty for the Masters of Clinical Sciences is collaborating to develop new course offerings to help students acquire the skills to address the growing opportunities in this big data space. 

Despite political distractions, it is evident that we are living in remarkable times for biomedical research. A critical strategy at Rush is on nurturing interprofessional, team-based problem solving to accelerate biomedical progress in research and health care delivery. In that regard, it is worth considering two wonderful national examples of interprofessional research that were recognized by the recent awarding of the Lasker Prize. The 2016 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award was given to three physicians — Drs. William G. Kaelin, Jr., Peter J. Ratcliffe, Gregg L. Semenza — for their work in elucidating the mechanism for oxygen sensing to maintain sufficient oxygen to enable cell survival. The circuitry for this basic discovery emerged out of understanding of mechanisms unraveled in the study of clinical disease pathogenesis.

In contrast, the 2016 Lasker DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award was awarded to three basic scientists  — Drs. Ralf F.W. Bartenschlager, Charles M. Rice and Michael J. Sofia  —whose collective work characterized the causal viral agent for Hepatitis C; then assembled the in-vitro systems that allowed for the formulation of a targeted drug therapy that was then shown to be curative for this previously lethal condition afflicting over 170 million people worldwide.

These solutions required multiple different professional disciplines bringing together multiple skillsets and adaptively converging through a sustained, interactive process to overcome seemingly intractable problems. Surprisingly, the clinicians solved the basic science problem and the basic scientists solved the clinical problems. These examples demonstrate that what is important is not the job title but the team success in solving problems. We must build on this agnostic collaborative model at Rush, as the “geriatric tsunami” has arrived. The blended contributions of all health professionals will be essential to drive the rapid pace of innovation required to address our urgent health challenges.

I invite you to learn more about the Graduate College’s faculty research projects.