Research done right

Medical research is as valued a mission as clinical care and education in our department. Our decades-long record of successes and our national and international reputation for discovery in several areas speaks to the priority we give to research. Our PhD faculty members in Internal Medicine have done a terrific job in this regard. The challenges in being successful may differ from the other two missions in some respects, but our commitment to scientific inquiry is unquestionable. One challenge for some who want to participate in research is balancing the work with other priorities. By identifying novel ways for all of us to take part, even devoting just a few hours a week to it, we can incorporate fresh perspectives to the conversation and the opportunity for breakthroughs. We are all members of a world-class research institution and each of us has a role to play in that good work, and I will continue to fight for making that happen.

Recently, I have opened conversations at lunchtime round tables with groups of rising young and mid-career bench and clinical researchers. I am grateful for their attendance and their open feedback about what helped enable their successes as well as barriers to discovery. Future sessions will occur and if you were unable to attend a previous one, please let me know and I will make sure you see an invitation to the next.

At these sessions the most common word I heard from everyone was “collaboration.” Sometimes this means meetings to share ideas, sometimes it is “sharing biosamples,” sometimes it is finding like-minded scientists to review each others’ grants, sometimes it’s having a scientific writer help editing manuscripts. Potential solutions may lie in more targeted financial investment in our rising stars, but others may be simply being aware of what is already available.

There is no one solution, but I believe that building connections outside of our usual circles and sharing information with each other is the best place to focus. Our department’s deep pools of talent coupled with our inclination toward generosity—like I previously highlighted within the Inflammation Program—will produce fresh results. Many hands, light work. One possible digital opportunity may lie in the recently launched Research at Iowa Medicine app. If you have an iPhone (an Android version is pending, I believe), I encourage you to download the app and create a user profile. With links to ongoing clinical trials, research news, new sources of grant funding, and—most important—the ability to easily connect with fellow Iowa researchers, new collaborations can be fostered, new discoveries made. More to come.

This is not to say that we are abandoning our commitment to traditional methods of nurturing young researchers one by one. In my last post, I highlighted the health services research fellowship on offer through the VA, and I am similarly encouraged by the recent recruitment of another resident for the collaborative and innovative StARR program led by Dr. David Stoltz and Pediatrics’ Dr. Paul McCray. The individualized attention and focused training of a mentor through programs like these and are others are still invaluable influences in shaping the career of a researcher. Postdocs and fellows, junior and senior faculty, each of us can give you the names of two or three instructors who had a profound impact on the course of our careers.

Just this week, the announcement that Dr. Mahmoud Abou Alaiwa has received a $3.6M NHLBI grant to study mucociliary transport, his first R01, bears out the mentor theory of development. For the last few years, Dr. Abou Alaiwa has been studying this under a K-award and the mentorship of Dr. Michael Welsh. Although Dr. Abou Alaiwa performed the bulk of the work to achieve this R01, I am sure that he also credits the guidance of Dr. Welsh and many of his colleagues in the Pulmonary Division. This pipeline from trainee to K-award to independent research program is immensely satisfying to watch reach fruition, especially as Dr. Abou Alaiwa’s own lab members begin to achieve their own successes.

Recognition for our hard work in conducting research is gratifying, but of course if it were all that drove us, the effort would be unsustainable. For most of us, we do this work because we are committed to something larger than ourselves, because we believe that we can make some small impact. A commitment to impact through bringing health care to underserved communities is part of what has driven Aloha Wilks, this year’s recipient of a Board of Regents Staff Excellence Award. Wilks is a research program coordinator, working with Dr. Martha Carvour and Dr. Kimberly Dukes, among others, on a project designed to shrink some of the inequities in health care experienced by rural and minoritized communities across the state. According to her nominators, she has brought a special energizing and sustaining force to this project that others have found invaluable over the years. Congratulations, Aloha!

About Isabella Grumbach, MD, PhD

Isabella Grumbach, MD, PhD; Interim Chair and DEO, Department of Internal Medicine; Kate Daum Endowed Professor; Professor of Medicine – Cardiovascular Medicine; Professor of Radiation Oncology

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