KU Medical Center's research excellence

June 28, 2013

Earlier this week I was looking at KU Medical Center's fantastic website. On our home page are stories about a new telemedicine study led by School of Nursing professor Carol Smith on how iPad technology can be used to reduce intravenous blood stream infections; groundbreaking research by professor of molecular and integrative physiology David Albertini on the inner workings of oocytes; and a promising new treatment for polycystic kidney disease developed in the lab of associate professor of nephrology and hypertension Xiaogang Li.

It's inspiring to read about the discoveries occurring on a daily basis at KU Medical Center, thanks to our talented and driven scientists. They are the reason we continually meet our mission of translating research into cures.

However, the potential for new scientific breakthroughs at KU Medical Center and similar institutions across the country is in jeopardy.

Earlier this month, the National Institutes of Health released a projection of the spending reductions it must make to cope with federal sequestration budget cuts that went into effect on March 1. While the National Cancer Institute (NCI) received $5.06 billion in fiscal year 2012, it was budgeted to receive only $4.77 billion in fiscal year 2013 due to the sequester. The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences' budget will fall from $574 million to $542 million.

Even before the sequester reductions kicked in, NIH funding had been cut by 17 percent over the past decade. Adjusted for inflation, that puts overall funding at levels not seen since 1999.

Many medical research institutions have already seen the funds they rely on scaled back. Now scientists across the country are trying to figure out ways to keep their research going with the prospect of even less federal funding.

That's why I am especially happy to report that the nationally recognized scientists at all three of our schools are continuing to attract funding for a myriad of research projects that have the potential to save lives and improve the quality of health care for millions of people worldwide.

Just this year, KU Medical Center researchers have been awarded several prestigious grants from the NIH:

  • Won Choi, an associate professor of public health and preventive medicine, and his colleagues were awarded a $2.7 million NCI grant to create an Internet-based program to help American Indian tribal college students stop smoking.
  • Jiangming Qui, an associate professor of microbiology, molecular genetics and immunology, was awarded a $1.9 million grant to study the pathogenesis of B19V infection-caused anemia, which is caused by the human parvovirus.
  • Richard J. Barohn, a distinguished professor and chairman of the Department of Neurology, was awarded a $1.6 million grant from the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Orphan Products Development to investigate whether the drug rasagiline can be effective in treating patients with ALS.
  • Udayan Apte, an assistant professor of pharmacology, toxicology and therapeutics, received a $1.6 million grant to study liver regeneration after acetaminophen-induced acute liver failure.
  • Laverne Manos, a clinical instructor in the School of Nursing, is the lead investigator on a $1 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration to develop a new interdisciplinary model for the transition care of patients discharged from the hospital's pediatrics unit.

Our scientists are also attracting funding from non-NIH sources as well. For example:

  • The Landon Center on Aging received a $ 1 million grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation to help improve the ability of medical students, resident physicians, and faculty to work with professionals in other health disciplines in teams to provide better care for older adult patients.
  • Nikki Chang, an assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, was recently awarded a $720,000 grant from the American Cancer Society to study how two proteins, CCL2 and CCR2, function during breast cancer progression.
  • Charles Little, a professor of anatomy and cell biology, was given a $300,000 grant from the Mathers Foundation to fund his investigation into embryonic cell development.

These are just a few of the major grants our researchers have brought to KU Medical Center so far in 2013. We can all take great pride in the work our scientists are doing during these tough budget times.

But as proud as we are, the future of NIH funding is still of grave concern. Unless Congress acts soon, this year's 5 percent sequester cuts are set to continue for a decade. That would wipe out $19 billion in NIH funding over the next 10 years and could sideline the careers of many of our young scientists. More importantly, slowing the pace of research will delay the discovery of new treatments and cures.

At KU Medical Center, we continue to be proactive when it comes to research funding. We are constantly looking at ways to contain costs, and, working in partnership with KU Endowment, we are seeking new revenue opportunities to help offset federal funding cuts.

We have had some amazing research milestones in recent years - our designation as an NCI cancer center, the Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) award that created Frontiers, and our designation as a nationally designated Alzheimer's Disease Center. These milestones have placed us among the nation's elite research institutions. While there's little doubt that the latest cuts in federal research funding will affect us, I am grateful to our hard-working faculty for continuing to make discoveries that change the world.

Last modified: Jul 12, 2013