Friday, August 19, 2016

Public Enemy One

Published in VC's Notes on August 19, 2016

Attacking Public Health Enemy #1

Good morning!

We received good news from Washington, D.C. and Bethesda, Maryland this week.  As you may have read in yesterday's eCV and The Clarion-Ledger, UMMC has received a five-year, $19.9 million award from the National Institutes of Health.  Its purpose is to build our capacity to conduct translational research to find effective ways to prevent and treat obesity.  

The award, which was provided through the IDeA (Institutional Development Award) program, is billed as the largest single NIH award or grant to UMMC.

More important than that record, however, is how the money will be used.  In my opinion, obesity is Mississippi's Public Health Enemy #1.  Not only is it an unhealthy condition in its own right, it's a major underlying contributor to diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, physical disability and even certain types of cancer.

We have learned a lot about obesity in recent years, including here in our own Mississippi Center for Obesity Research.  But effective clinical strategies to prevent obesity and reverse its course - short of surgical intervention that is recommended in some cases - continue to elude us.  In time, this grant will allow us to take our best ideas and safely test them in a population that desperately wants answers. 

Summers_Wilson.jpgThe timing of this could not have been better.  We've been working hard to build our clinical research capabilities.  We have a few outstanding clinical research programs - most notably the Jackson Heart Study and research conducted through The MIND Center - and we participate in many cancer clinical trials for children and adults.  But our overall clinical research infrastructure has been lacking.

Within the last few years, however, we've brought online the Center for Clinical Intelligence and Analytics, the Enterprise Data Warehouse and the Clinical Research Support Program.  We're also in the process of adding important physical assets - the Translational Research Center currently under construction and an inpatient Clinical Research Unit planned for the sixth floor of University Hospital.

The grant also will only deepen our growing relationship with the Mayo Clinic.  As part of our project, we will have extensive collaborations with Mayo and with the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which has a long-standing focus on nutrition and metabolic disease. With Mayo, we've already invested in systems that will permit joint clinical trials for novel cancer therapies.

One especially beneficial aspect of the grant is that it's designed to develop five to 10 junior clinical research faculty to the point that their work can be competitive for ongoing funding from the NIH and other sponsors.  In an era when support for less-experienced researchers can be hard to come by, this is just what the doctor ordered. 

I'll end with a shout out to the people responsible for landing this grant, especially the principal investigator, Dr. Jim Wilson, professor of physiology and biophysics.  I also want to note the efforts of Dr. Richard Summers, associate vice chancellor for research, and his entire team, including Executive Director of Research Leslie Musshafen, for their splendid work in developing our research infrastructure.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention our friend in Washington, Senator Thad Cochran, who announced the grant.  The Senator is one of Congress' staunchest advocates for investment in health sciences research and he's keenly aware of the progress we've made to be ready to handle a project like this.

We will make the most of this opportunity.  A strong clinical research program directed at obesity and other conditions that afflict our population is one of the things that sets us apart, and it's an essential ingredient in our strategy to achieve A Healthier Mississippi.



Follow me on Twitter @LAWoodwardMD