February 22, 2018
Although fiscal year 2017 ended on Aug. 31, 2017, we are just now getting a good look at how the medical school fared research-wise. We have a relatively small, but strong, group of research-intensive faculty. Our investigators conduct research that spans a broad array of disciplines and ranges from fundamental curiosity-driven science to clinical trials and population-based studies. If research proposals are a measure of how hard our scientists are working, I can attest that our scientists are working very hard. This past year, they submitted a total of 1,203 proposals for nearly $1 billion. Of these many proposals, they were awarded funding for 764 projects, totaling $151,195,509, with about $70,000,000 of those proposals funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other federal agencies. Our FY2017 research funding reflects an almost 9 percent increase over last year’s research funding, continuing a trend of increasing funding over the past few years.
The five largest new NIH grants to the medical school are $6M to Dr. Nitin Tandon, neurosurgery (“A Unified Cognitive Network Model of Language”); $5M to Dr. Louise McCullough, neurology (“Psychosocial Stress and the Response to Stroke”); $3M to Dr. David McPherson, internal medicine (“Echogenic Targeted Liposomes: Transfection/Drug Delivery”); $3M to Dr. Steve Massey, ophthalmology and visual science (“UTHouston Core Center for Vision Research”); and $3M to Dr. Fabricio DoMonte, neurobiology and anatomy (“Thalamic Circuits in the Integration of Fear and Reward”). Of note, Dr. DoMonte is a young faculty member who joined the medical school in 2016 and was the recipient of a rising STAR award from the UT System. We are very proud of his early career success.
The NIH ranking of schools and departments is one measure of research success and is one way that research-intensive schools compare themselves to peer institutions. The Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research ranks the NIH funding of all medical schools. Despite an increase in NIH funding this year, our school’s rank did not change (#56). Medical school departments are ranked by the Blue Ridge Institute as well. Three of our departments were ranked in the top 20 for NIH funding – Neurosurgery (#13), Neurology (#19), and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (#19). The relatively small size of our research-intensive faculty makes me even prouder of our investigators.
Research dollars and research rankings, although important, don’t always reflect the importance of the work being done, or the impact of discoveries. Each of our scientists hope that their work will someday lead to a measurable impact on science, medicine, or health.
Dr. John Hancock, chair of the Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology, and executive director of the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases, recently gave a thoughtful talk to our Medical School Advisory Council to introduce the topic of research. The Advisory Council is a group of community leaders who advocate on McGovern Medical School’s behalf. Dr. Hancock eloquently explained the differences among clinical, translational, and basic research. He presented compelling real-life examples that brought science to life; examples of fundamental curiosity-driven science that opened up new areas of study that ultimately led to a series of discoveries that changed the course of science and medicine. For example, in the 1960s, Japanese chemist Osamu Shimomura studied jellyfish and discovered that they emit green light. This very fundamental discovery of green fluorescent protein led to a series of studies and new technology that is now universally used by laboratory-based researchers—and led to his Nobel Prize for Chemistry many years later (2008). Dr. Hancock presented a series of stories that underscored the wondrous nature of science and the thrill of discovery. We live in an exciting time for science and medicine. It is an awesome time to be a scientist at McGovern Medical School!
Please join me in thanking all of our investigators and their teams of laboratory and clinical staff who work very hard every day, asking and answering important questions.