Research On A Roll
As you can probably tell, most of our students began classes this week, joining those that started earlier this summer. A big welcome back to those who are returning, and to those just beginning their health care education: Trust me, you’ll figure out how to get around campus – eventually.
Just when we think Mississippi has experienced its hottest day of this summer, another one breaks that record. With highs this week in the middle 90s that feel more like the middle 100s, a summer storm would just about be welcome!
The Medical Center, however, is burning it up on a much more pleasant front (pardon my puns!). For fiscal year 2019, our external research funding increased by 17.5 percent, or $11.1 million, over FY18. All told, our faculty and staff garnered $74.8 million from 302 grants and awards, the third highest ever achieved at the Medical Center.
More than $40 million of that funding came from the National Institutes of Health. That’s certainly a nod to our research prowess and promise nationally, and affirmation of the leadership provided by Dr. Richard Summers, associate vice chancellor for research.
It was a big year for our clinical research enterprise. Here are some highlights:
- The Cancer Center and Research Institute started its first Phase 1 clinical trial for an immunotherapy drug that targets tumors.
- Dr. Adolfo Correa and his team received renewed funding for the Jackson Heart Study. This next six-year phase will include new health checks of JHS participants.
- Dr. Ervin Fox also received funding for the new Risk Underlying Rural Areas Longitudinal Study, or RURAL, which will examine why people in certain areas of the rural southeast and Appalachia have higher burdens of cardiovascular, lung, blood and sleep disorders.
- Our partnership with Tulane University and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center to address health disparities in the Mississippi Delta region is growing.
- We also received a one-year extension for UMMC’s trial to study CBD for children with severe epilepsy, which reflects the promise of initial results from year one of the study.
The Office of Research opened a new Office of Clinical Trials, and its primary goal is to make starting and managing clinical trials easier. One big accomplishment so far is the creation of tools for patients to learn more about clinical trials that they can participate in, and for use by clinical trial teams to identify potential participants. They are working on several projects that will help us train research professionals, manage our trials, and streamline our processes. Expect to hear more from this group in the coming year.
At the end of this month, we will dedicate our new Clinical Trials Research Unit located on one side of the top floor of University Hospital. The unit is a state-of-the-art, 22-bed facility that will expand and support the Medical Center’s research mission.
Researchers in our basic science mission are also bringing in grants for their new and continuing studies. Just to name a few new NIH awards from this past year: Dr. Fan Fan in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology to study hypertension and cognitive impairment; Dr. Jason Griggs in the Department of Biomedical Materials Science to study better, longer-lasting dental implants; Dr. Jose Miguel-Hidalgo in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior to study brain cell pathology in depression; and Dr. Michael Garrett in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology to study genetic factors in chronic kidney disease.
Every year, we recognize the best of the best researchers who give so much of their time and talents to this institution. Three professors received the platinum medallion – for those bringing in more than $5 million cumulatively in extramural funding to UMMC – at the Excellence in Research Awards last year. They are Dr. James Rowlett (Psychiatry and Human Behavior), Dr. Paul May (Neurobiology and Anatomical Sciences) and Dr. Wu Zhou (Otolaryngology and Communicative Sciences).
Our Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows are gleaning research funding from NIH, the American Heart Association and other organizations and federal agencies for work that includes new formulations of opioids that could decrease risk of abuse, drug delivery of anti-parasitic agents for honeybees, and adult hypertension associated with low birthweight, just to name a few.
The Medical Center also is busy on the intellectual property front. Our Office of Intellectual Property and Commercialization, led by Dr. Jim Petell, reports filing a record 13 patent applications and four trademark applications in FY19. Inventors at UMMC received a total four patents in that time frame: Dr. Lee Bidwell and Dr. Eric George for using elastin-like polypeptides to deliver drugs in pregnancy; Dr. Alejandro Chade and Dr. Lee Bidwell for a separate ELP application for kidney disease; Dr. Alan Jones and Dr. Mike Puskarich for biomarkers for diagnosis and treatment of sepsis; and Dr. Andrew Smith for imaging software used to assess liver health.
In a time of tightening budgets and competition for dollars, the grants and awards received by our researchers are more than extra feathers in our cap. They make possible groundbreaking studies that are transforming health care and speeding our quest for A Healthier Mississippi.