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Memo from the Chair: A Focus on Research

Memo from the Chair: A Focus on Research

During this academic year, our Department of Internal Medicine leadership team has focused its attention on our research mission. Our department has a long legacy of supporting excellence in research beginning with our founding chair, Dr. Maxwell Wintrobe. Seventy-five years later, we remain well-positioned to continue to grow our strong and diverse research programs. Importantly, Internal Medicine research grants account for:

  • 41% of the University of Utah School of Medicine clinical research dollars
  • 33% of all University of Utah School of Medicine research dollars
  • 29% of University of Utah Health Sciences research dollars
  • 18% of all research dollars at the University of Utah

Since my arrival in 2016, we have paid significant attention to grant submissions emphasizing the adage, “You cannot receive a grant if you don’t apply!” As a consequence of this work, our grant submissions increased by nearly two fold in one year! This flurry of work is leading to an increase in grant funding for the department. For example, we have improved in the BRIMR ranking for NIH funding, moving from #37 to #31. To support this growth, we are fortunate to have a strong research administration led by Chris LaSalle.

This fall, our department has hosted two research retreats. On October 27, the faculty from the Wintrobe labs came together to present overviews of their research programs and to spark collaborations among these new lab neighbors. Earlier this year in planning for campus transformation, we relocated many investigators from Building 521 to renovated space in Wintrobe. During the retreat, it was easy to identify shared research interests and themes among the faculty presenters from throughout the department. The retreat ended with beer and conversation—a tremendous success! Thanks to Don Kohan and Guy Zimmerman for helping with both the lab move and the retreat.

In November, we held our second departmental research retreat for new and new-to-Utah investigators. This was a wonderful afternoon of short presentations about the various resources available for researchers across our campus. Debra Stephens from Hematology and Tony Donato from Geriatrics closed the event by sharing personal insights from their journeys toward developing their research programs. If you were unable to attend, I would highly recommend you review the slides that were shared.

There are also new initiatives happening in research across the health system. Monica Vetter, PhD, Interim Associate Vice President for Research for Health Sciences, has created the first Health Sciences Research Council and I have been asked to serve on this committee. This group will bring together leaders from across the clinical and basic sciences to build opportunities for collaboration and new opportunities for investment. Mike Dean and Rachel Hess have been asked to lead a similar leadership committee focused on clinical research. Given our research leadership in the institution, our department will be contributing to the work of both committees, stay tuned!

Research has been a very important part of my career in academic medicine and I am thrilled to be able to continue my work in prostate cancer genetics at Utah. My team has new projects working with Ken Smith and the UPDB and we are also developing a decision support tool for PSA testing in Epic. These new projects are made possible by the unique and rich resources for research at Utah. I am thankful for the opportunity to continue to improve our understanding of the genetic susceptibility to prostate cancer.