Depth and Diversity of Our Research Bench

The core missions of our department—clinical care, education, and research—are closely intertwined. A faculty attending physician might assess the improvement of a patient enrolled in a clinical trial while rounding with residents. Another might discuss with a trainee a new way to filter a database filled with 40 years of clinical data to analyze trends in light of new treatments. Working in an academic medical center such as ours brings with it the possibility that even the mundane daily routines, even for those of you with heavy clinical responsibilities, can be enriched by the curiosity for discovery that permeates our environment. My hope is that as a community of clinicians, scientists, scholars, and learners, we will actively seek opportunities to diversify beyond our core constituency.

I want to highlight a valued segment of our community who at first glance could be viewed as working exclusively in the domain of research, but who, I would argue, are essential to our tripartite mission. More than 60 members of our faculty hold PhD degrees in a variety of fields from microbiology to anthropology, and although they do not see patients in clinics, advancing human health is central to their mission. Many discoveries that these faculty make in their labs today become tomorrow’s treatments. It may be a novel therapeutic target in heart failure, such as the one that Shunguang Wei will continue to study now funded by a new R01, or the seed grant that Thorsten Maretzky will use to explore the viability of an idea to treat endometrial carcinomas.

The following is by no means a comprehensive list, but should give you an idea of the breadth and depth of talent that exists in our PhD faculty:

  • Kin Fai Au works in bioinformatics and his expertise in RNA sequencing and large-scale data analysis makes him indispensable to other researchers at Iowa and across the country.
  • Samuel Stephens, a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center, studies the cells in the pancreas that produce endocrine and how they regulate metabolism.
  • Marin Schweizer recently received a VA Merit grant to better understand antibiotic resistance. Last year, she was senior author on a major meta-analysis of outcomes associated with vancomycin-resistant enterococci published in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.
  • Prajwal Gurung, a relatively recent arrival here, is investigating the mechanisms of a particular cytokine in Sweet’s syndrome and other autoinflammatory skin diseases, for which he was awarded an early career NIH grant.
  • Gloria Lee is establishing the role of the tau protein in neuron signal transduction and its connection to Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. The insights generated in her lab will be critical as more members of our aging population begin to experience dementia.
  • Anil Chauhan was recently awarded an R35 NIH grant to pursue a novel strategy for management of patients at risk of stroke. Late last year, he also received the AHA Established Investigator Award to study links between thrombosis and inflammation.

Overall the department has seen terrific growth in the award of research funding, and a significant percentage of that has come from extraordinary applications by our PhD faculty. In fact, these members were awarded nearly $4.7M in research funding just in 2017.

I believe we will all agree that the work these colleagues do may have a measurable impact on human health, thereby aligning with the more immediate impact of the work of clinicians. Our research-intensive colleagues also serve as mentors to the next generation of researchers, including undergraduate, medical and doctoral students, and postdoctoral fellows. Similar to the observation and diagnostic skills that are taught by our clinician educators, so too is the importance of training in scientific rigor.

I would be remiss in not pointing out that our MDs and MD/PhD faculty continue to excel broadly in the area of investigation, and I will continue to feature achievements as they become known. But for now, let me give you a snapshot of some current activities and achievements.

  • Benjamin Davis may soon expand his clinic treating patients with eosinophilic esophagitis to include a pediatric gastroenterologist, increasing its reach and effectiveness.
  • Four of our faculty members have had their applications for VA Merit grants approved for fundingLee-Ann Allen, Frank Faraci, Steve McGowan, and Bill Nauseef. Congratulations! We look forward to hearing about the advances and the progress that will emanate from all of these projects.
  • Isabella Grumbach received a four-year, $1.74M R01 to study the effects of CaMKII in mitochondria and its impact on smooth muscle cell migration and survival.

I remain grateful to everyone for their diligence and remarkable successes. I am pleased to share the news of your good work and immense contributions with this readership, who, I am certain, celebrate your achievements as well.

About E. Dale Abel, MD, PhD

E. Dale Abel, MD PhD Francois M. Abboud Chair in Internal Medicine John B. Stokes III Chair in Diabetes Research Chair, Department of Internal Medicine Director, Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center Director, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism Professor of Medicine, Biochemistry and Biomedical Engineering

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