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SOM hits top 20 for NIH funding

As a testament to the outstanding work by our research scientists, new NIH rankings show the SOM continues to be one of the fastest-growing medical schools in terms of federal research grant support. Our researchers attracted more than $178 million in NIH grant support in 2004, making us the 19th best-funded U.S. medical school, up from 23rd in 2003 and 12 places higher than in 1996, with $55 million in funding. Thirteen of our departments ranked in the top 20 for NIH funding in 2004, and the SOM tied for fourth place among 121 institutions for NIH Individual National Research Service Awards for predoctoral and postdoctoral fellowships.

I am extremely proud of the work going on in our laboratories, led by top-notch faculty scientists and exceptional teams of graduate and medical students. They are vital to providing new knowledge and breakthroughs in medicine leading to improved therapies for our patients.

A new leader for faculty development

Dr. Sharon Weiss, Professor and Vice Chair of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, was recently appointed as Assistant Dean for Faculty Development, a half-time position. Initially, she will develop a faculty orientation program and will work with faculty and department chairs to mentor young faculty. "I am thrilled that the Dean, the Executive Associate Dean/Administration and Faculty Affairs, and the SOM have recognized the importance of faculty development by establishing this new position," says Dr. Weiss. "We expend great effort in recruiting talented faculty, and they deserve to succeed."

A member of the faculty since 1998, Dr. Weiss has helped reorganize anatomic pathology services throughout the Emory system, revised the pathology resident curriculum, and worked with Dr. Tristram Parslow, department Chair, to recruit numerous talented pathologists, helping make Emory's anatomic pathology division one of the most respected in the country.

Dr. Weiss served as President of the United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology and received the group's lifetime achievement award. This year, she was named a Georgia Local Legend, honoring women for commitment, originality, and creativity in medicine. She also serves on the Emory Healthcare Board of Directors and is a Trustee of the American Board of Pathology.

In memoriam

Our community was deeply saddened by the death of Dr. Eugene Stead in June at his home in North Carolina. He graduated from Emory and the SOM and served as Chair of the Department of Medicine from 1942 (when he was only 37) to 1946 and Dean of the SOM from 1945 to 1946. During his time here, he helped develop the state's first cardiac catheterization lab at Grady Hospital at a time when there were only two others like it in the world. Dr. Stead spent the rest of his career at Duke University, where he established the country's first physician assistant program.

We also miss our colleague Dr. Robert Gunn, Chair of Physiology, who died in July. Chair of the department since 1981, he founded the current MD/PhD program in 1983 and four years ago established the Fellowships in Research and Science Teaching program, the largest minority postdoctoral training program in the country. Dr. Gunn was an internationally recognized authority on the molecular mechanisms of ion transport across cell membranes. His research honors included the Kenneth S. Cole Award for his work on anion transport across red blood cells and the 2006 Distinguished Service Award, presented by the Biophysical Society shortly before his death. Dr. Gunn also served as President of the Society of General Physiologists and on the editorial boards of several professional journals.

Sadly, Dr. Jerome Sutin, former Chair of the Department of Cell Biology, also passed away in July. As department chair for more than 30 years, Dr. Sutin made significant contributions to our understanding of the brain. He served as President of the American Association of Anatomists and was on the editorial boards of several journals. In honor of his contributions to neuroscience and cell biology, his department established the annual Jerome Sutin Lecture in 1998. He retired from Emory in 1996.

Inside Biomedical Engineering

One of our fastest growing departments is the joint SOM/Georgia Tech Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering. "The biomedical engineering field has evolved at an incredible pace in recent years, with breakthroughs in imaging technology, diagnostic bionanotechnology, medical devices, computer-assisted surgical technology, and efficient drug delivery systems," says Dr. Larry McIntire, who has chaired the department since 2003.

Established in 1997, this young department's collaborative research has resulted in a number of major grants and considerable national recognition, such as being listed third in the nation by U.S News & World Report in its 2005 graduate program ranking. "Georgia Tech and Emory have both made intentional and substantial investments in both talent and facilities for biomedical engineering, and those investments are clearly paying off," adds Dr. McIntire. For instance:

  • Dr. Eberhard Voit, the David D. Flanagan Chair and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Systems Biology, and colleagues at the Medical University of South Carolina have reported major new biomedical research in the journal Nature. They have demonstrated a promising new approach integrating scientific experimentation and mathematical modeling to study a key signaling pathway that helps cells decide whether to grow or die. With implications for disease characterization, biotechnology, and drug design, this approach efficiently helps scientists gain useful knowledge from complex biological information generated with advanced analysis technology.

  • The NIH awarded Dr. Gang Bao, Professor, and colleagues with $11.5 million to establish a new research program focused on creating advanced nanotechnologies to analyze plaque formation on the molecular level and detect plaque at its earliest stages before it can lead to heart attack and stroke. They will focus on pinpointing plaque's genetic cause with three types of nanostructured probes, molecular beacons, semiconductor quantum dots, and magnetic nanoparticles.

  • Dr. Shuming Nie, Associate Professor, and colleagues have received two new collaborative NIH research grants totaling nearly $10 million to establish a multidisciplinary research program in cancer nanotechnology and develop a new class of nanoparticles for molecular and cellular imaging. Working at the subatomic level, they will link molecular signatures to patients' clinical outcomes to help clinicians predict, detect, and treat cancers earlier and more effectively. Although the focus of their program is prostate cancer, their research will have broad applications for lymphoma and many types of tumors, including breast and colorectal cancer.

Other major grants

This summer has seen tremendous growth in research funding at Emory. Here are some examples.
  • The Grand Challenges in Global Health, a major effort to combat diseases that annually kill millions of people in developing countries, will fund research projects at the Emory Vaccine Center, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, and the Rollins School of Public Health. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and the Canadian Institutes of Health, the initiative seeks to develop effective technologies that are inexpensive to produce, easy to distribute, and simple to use.

    As part of the initiative, Dr. Rafi Ahmed, Director of the Emory School of Medicine Vaccine Center and Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) Eminent Scholar, will lead a project to discover new immunological strategies for curing hepatitis C virus infections with a $12.5 million grant in collaboration with three other universities and the NIH. They hope to develop more effective therapies than are currently available.

    The Global Health initiative also will provide a $16.3 million grant for an HIV vaccine project led by researchers at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. Dr. Eric Hunter, GRA Eminent Scholar and Professor of Pathology, will lead the Emory portion of the grant at Yerkes (approximately $1.5 million) to study the immune system response to HIV infection. Also, Dr. Keith Klugman, Professor of Global Health in the Rollins School of Public Health, will work with scientists at Finland's National Public Health Institute on research aimed at reducing the time and cost required for trials of vaccines against bacterial pneumonia.

  • The NIH awarded Emory $9 million to create a National Molecular Libraries Screening Center, one of nine in the nation. Led by Dr. Ray Dingledine, Chair of Pharmacology, the center will provide information about key biological processes involved in human health and disease. Each center will use high-throughput robotics to screen huge libraries of small molecule compounds against cells or proteins already identified by scientists as playing key roles in disease processes.

  • The National Institute on Aging has designated Emory as an Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, the only one in Georgia and one of 32 in the nation. Funded with $7.4 million from the NIA, the center will conduct key research to better understand Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases. Neurology Chair Dr. Allan Levey directs the center's administrative core. Instrumental in acquiring this funding is Emory's partnership with the Georgia Research Alliance, which is committing $700,000 in matching support annually for five years.

SOM heroes

Dr. Nanette Wenger (Cardiology) was a co-recipient of the Atlanta Business Chronicle Health Care Heroes Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing her accomplishments in cardiovascular disease in women.

ABC also honored Dr. Leon Haley (Emergency Medicine) as a Physician Hero for his many accomplishments at Grady Hospital and Dr. Kenneth Gow (Surgery/Pediatrics) as a Health Care Innovations Hero for developing surgical procedures for young cancer patients.

Additionally, Dr. Michael Johns III (Otolaryngology) received the Dennis Jahnigen Career Development Scholars Award to promote his research on the efficacy of treatments for age-related vocal difficulties. He will focus on determining whether patients with serious symptoms of presbylaryngis, a thinning of the vocal fold muscle and tissue that can lead to communication problems, are effectively treated.

Dr. Sheryl Heron (Emergency Medicine) received the National Medical Association's Women in Medicine Award, presented to women physicians who demonstrate exemplary service in their fields.

Enterprising minds

Thanks to Dr. David Wright (Emergency Medicine), a group of Georgia Tech seniors recently worked at Grady Hospital to design practical solutions to real-life problems that hospitals face.

With funding from the Coulter Foundation, the Biomedical Engineering Emergency Medicine Clinical Immersion Program exposed engineering students, who shadowed Emory physicians for six weeks, to learn more about the environment and develop new clinical technologies, such as wireless vital sign assessment systems, new IV designs, and new monitoring devices. "There are very few programs providing an actual course or opportunity for students to become truly immersed," says Dr. Wright.

Thomas J. Lawley, MD
Dean, Emory School of Medicine

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