KU Medical Center's research excellence continues

January 17, 2014

Earlier this week, we made the exciting announcement that three of our faculty members will use $10 million in federal funding from the new Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) for three projects that will help deliver new cures and therapies to patients faster.

Over the last few months, we've heard a lot of public discussion about the increasing difficulty of obtaining federal research funding in this era of sequestration. In Kansas City, we've recently witnessed a community-wide campaign around the importance of translational research. And we've educated policymakers and other stakeholders about the economic benefits of our research enterprise. The recent PCORI funding announcement provides a great example for us to boast about our excellence in all of those areas.

PCORI is an independent organization authorized by the U.S. Congress in 2010 as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Its mission is to fund research that will provide patients, their caregivers and clinicians with the evidence-based information needed to make better informed health care decisions. KU Medical Center researchers are uniquely positioned to lead in this new arena.

The largest of the awards, $7 million, will allow a KU Medical Center-led team to spend the next 18 months developing a network to connect electronic medical record systems at nine different medical centers throughout the country and building tools to use that data to answer specific research questions partially determined by patients. Leading this project is Russ Waitman, director of medical informatics and assistant vice chancellor for Enterprise Analytics.

A second project will use $1.5 million in PCORI funding to test four drugs to see which is the most effective for a specific group of peripheral neuropathy patients. The three-year study, led by Rick Barohn, will focus on patients whose neuropathy has no known cause. The third PCORI award, also for $1.5 million, will support a project led by Ed Ellerbeck, whose team is studying the effectiveness of long-term nicotine replacement therapy for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The PCORI grants reinforce KU Medical Center's well-established excellence in the area of translational research. 

Since we're talking about excellence in biomedical research, it's worth noting that in November, KU Medical Center completed the $34 million Wahl construction project, transforming 133,000 square feet of space into 37 state-of-the-art research labs. The completion of the Wahl Hall project wrapped up a 10-year effort to transform 1950s-era labs into sparkling new research spaces with the latest in scientific equipment. (We've posted some great before and after photos here.) These labs are now homes for some of our most celebrated cancer scientists who are overseeing innovative research into cures and treatments for breast, prostate, ovarian and pancreatic cancers and were an important factor in The University of Kansas Cancer Center's successful application for National Cancer Institute designation.

The massive renovation project was financed in large part by donations from the Kansas Masonic Foundation and by the state of Kansas through the Kansas Bioscience Authority. As we head into another legislative session, we know that our partners in Topeka are always interested in hearing about the economic benefits of our work. The Wahl Hall project didn't just create jobs for scientists - it employed a large number of construction workers for three years: $30 million of the investment went directly to construction and equipment, such as replacing the building's HVAC system. The Wahl Hall renovations, coupled with the openings of the Hemenway Life Sciences Innovation Center in 2007 and the KU Clinical Research Center in January 2012, are great examples of ways in which our drive to become one of the country's top academic research centers pays off in so many ways in addition to the most important one: better human health.

Congratulations to everyone on our campus and at Purdum Construction for a job well done with the Wahl Hall transformation, to Drs. Waitman, Barohn and Ellerbeck for staking our claim to a new area of federal research funding, and to everyone at KU Medical Center who makes our research enterprise so successful day in and day out.

Last modified: Jan 17, 2014