Despite challenges, breakthroughs continue

This has been a clinically challenging year, but faculty and providers throughout University of Iowa Health Care have demonstrated an imagination for devising solutions and for collaborating in new ways on their implementation. Many of the innovations have been in response to one of the greatest threats to our community’s and our planet’s health and safety. New clinics are being launched as new insights into the evolving pandemic require us to provide additional services. Other innovations have resulted from the need to ensure that despite the global challenges on resources we continue to manage still vitally important, non-COVID-related health concerns for which Iowans have come to rely on us. All of this has not been easy, and more work lies ahead, but your efforts have kept our neighbors—and each other—safer and for longer. It bears repeating that I am grateful for what you have accomplished, but I am not surprised.

However, UI Health Care is more than just a team of extraordinarily talented clinicians. We are also producing breakthroughs in research and discovery. When it comes to addressing COVID-19, Drs. Pat Winokur and Dilek Ince are both leading vaccine and therapeutic trials. Microbiologists like Drs. Bradley Ford and Stanley Perlman lead teams advancing our knowledge about this novel coronavirus, both how to more quickly and accurately detect it and how it functions. When—when—we have beaten this back, it will have been in part due to the insights gained right here in Iowa City. And just as clinicians in our department have continued to provide essential care, from prevention to advanced therapies, our investigators continue to make strides on many fronts.

One indicator of this progress is manifested in the amount of our department’s NIH and federal research grant portfolio. When the current federal fiscal year ends on September 30, 2020, more than $41.7M in new and existing NIH grants will have been awarded to researchers in the Department of Internal Medicine. This represents the highest NIH funding that our department has earned in its nearly 150-year history. In a year of unprecedented events, it is wonderful to celebrate this milestone, particularly one that is the result of hard work and collaboration. These successes, as I have discussed before, especially in times of crisis, should be celebrated. This result represents only a part of our department’s overall research portfolio, which includes funding from multiple other sources including other federal agencies, professional organizations, and industry. That total represents a broad swath of research activity, across multiple divisions, from large program project grants (PPG) to modest career-launching development grants. Our ability to grow our research portfolio also represents the remarkable support staff, who coordinate with our research faculty behind the scenes and ensure that every detail of every submission is accounted for and on time. Congratulations to all of you.

There are far too many, dozens and dozens, of individual investigators, colleagues, and projects to name here, but I would like to call out a couple examples to give you a sense of just how wide-ranging our department’s scope is. One of the more recent awards will tap into our deep bench of strength in cystic fibrosis research with a new five-year, $11.5M PPG, led by Drs. Paul McCray, Mike Welsh, and John Engelhardt. More details on that are coming soon. More junior faculty members are also incredibly productive. Dr. Muhammad Furqan was recently awarded a two-year, $119K grant from the National Cancer Institute to launch further therapeutic studies in treating lung cancer. The NCI awarded this to Dr. Furqan in recognition of his success in leading so many other clinical trials, more than 15 of them currently under his supervision. Our researchers are also funded as they pursue a greater understanding of issues of social justice as they intersect with our stewardship of public health. A recent story on Dr. Michelle Mengeling’s research into sexual assault in the military left out that her work has been consistently funded by the VA and the Department of Defense.

What I am most encouraged by are the successes of our fellows and junior faculty. They speak to the success of our efforts in mentoring and support. The other day, one of our cardiology fellows (and member of our Physician Scientist Training Pathway) Dr. Tyler Rasmussen casually tweeted about successes on three different projects he is involved with. A recent graduate of our innovative dual-certification pathway in rheumatology and allergy/immunology, Dr. Bharat Kumar, has recently been named to the Board of Directors of the American College of Rheumatology. A graduate of our GI Fellowship, Dr. Arvind Murali, has developed a calculator that any clinician can use to find the risk of decompensation in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. And, Dr. Alejandro Pezzulo, continues to explore new areas of lung disease with his receipt of a pilot grant from our Institute of Clinical and Translational Science.

For some time now, our VPMA and Dean Brooks Jackson and Executive Dean Pat Winokur, have released the “Dean’s List,” a monthly report listing the funding successes of everyone across the Carver College of Medicine, including grant renewals and industry support for clinical trials. A recent release of the Dean’s List caught us up for the months of March through June, and as you can see below the Department of Internal Medicine showed up consistently throughout. From cardiology to gastroenterology and from oncology to endocrinology, our work spans the gamut. Each one of these entries will no doubt yield interesting and noteworthy results and it remains our goal to keep you informed about these breakthroughs when they occur. Research represents an important element of our tripartite mission and we will continue to support and advocate for increased resources to propel us to greater heights.

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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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