College of Medicine focuses on pipeline of new scholars to achieve strategic vision
The steady growth of The Ohio State University’s research program is top of mind at Wexner Medical Center, where College of Medicine Dean K. Craig Kent is focused on expanding the ranks of researchers in the biomedical sciences.
Kent told the Board of Trustees this week that the biomedical research future is bright thanks to the relentless recruitment of scholars creating a pipeline of new talent.
“Our aspiration is to be a top-20 academic medical center,” Kent said. “This requires a significant growth in our reputation, and I would argue that the most important determinant of reputation is the amount and quality of the research that we perform here at the medical center.
“The college currently has hundreds of outstanding researchers,” Kent said. “To achieve our strategic vision it’s clear to me that we have to have a pipeline of new and talented researchers coming into Ohio State.”
The research enterprise is in the spotlight as Ohio State administrators and faculty report to trustees on the university’s latest interdisciplinary research successes and plans for the future under the strategic plan, which positions Ohio State as a national flagship public research university of the 21st century. Among other programs, the trustees this week heard presentations on biomedical, engineering and agricultural innovations and initiatives to ensure the university meets the highest standards of research integrity.
Kent reported that Ohio State’s biomedical research community exceeds the national average on several measures when it comes to federal funding. He presented a video detailing the 19 investigators who received their first National Institutes of Health R01 research project grants in 2017 – in a more typical year, four or five scholars would receive their first R01. Nationally, the average age of individuals earning their first NIH award is 43; the average age of the 19 recipients last year is 37. And the four recent recruits he invited to describe their research programs collectively boast $5.7 million in federal funding. The average funded scholar receives about $250,000 annually in National Institutes of Health support, he noted.
“The take-home message is that Ohio State is this incredibly fertile environment for people who are very talented to come and be successful in their research endeavors,” he said.
Ohio State also offers biomedical researchers a rich environment for collaboration. The work of Jianjie Ma, professor of surgery, is an example of how interdisciplinary partnerships across medicine and with scholars in the colleges of veterinary medicine, engineering, pharmacy, optometry and public health have advanced discoveries that are likely to lead to clinical trials within two years. Ma leads studies of the protein MG53, which he described to trustees as a “pixie dust” that holds promise for skin wound healing as well as cell repair in diseases of the heart and brain.
Ma, who has been at Ohio State for six years, is an example of the possibilities that lie ahead for young investigators in the research pipeline. To showcase that pipeline, Kent invited four recent recruits – two assistant professors and two mid-career scientists – to describe their research programs to the Wexner Medical Center board. All have been on Ohio State’s medical faculty for less than two years.
Leah Pyter, assistant professor of psychiatry in the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research, is pursuing her hypothesis that cancer tumors alter communication signals between the immune system and the brain, leaving survivors struggling with depression, anxiety and other behavioral health symptoms long after cancer treatment is complete.
Lang Li, professor and chair of biomedical informatics, emphasized the value that big data brings to patient care. Informatics tools enable scientists to use genetics, disease conditions and other information from medical records to predict which patients will respond positively to therapies, avoiding a trial-and-error approach to treatment.
Kristin Stanford, assistant professor of physiology and cell biology, reported on early findings in animal studies suggesting that a mother’s exercise before and during pregnancy can improve the metabolic health of her offspring – showing the potential exercise might have as a tool to prevent diabetes.
Doug Lewandowski, a professor of internal medicine and Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute investigator who arrived just six weeks ago, focuses on developing novel ways to examine chemical reactions in the heart as it weakens with the goal of identifying patients at risk for heart failure early and developing precise personalized treatment strategies for them.
These scholars “exemplify both the talent and the quality that we can attract to our institution,” Kent said.