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Dean's Weekly Message

April 3, 2017


Dear colleague: 

Last month, the White House recommended a nearly 20 percent cut – about $5.8 billion – in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in next year’s federal budget and last week, the White House proposed an additional cut of $1.2 billion in the current NIH budget. Subsequent testimony by Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price raised the possibility of reducing research infrastructure support by reducing the facilities and administration component of research awards. These proposals reflect a lack of understanding of the value of biomedical research and fail to acknowledge the significant co-investment that our university and others across the country make to support this critical aspect of our mission. There is ample evidence of the benefits to society generated by biomedical research: dramatically improved survival in childhood cancer, successful treatment of hepatitis C, control of HIV and many other improvements to human health. If the proposed changes are implemented, the impact on our campus research activities would be significant. We are developing contingency plans in case there are substantial changes in funding levels. In the meantime, the university’s lobbying team is meeting with the staff of the Colorado congressional delegation to emphasize the need to ensure appropriate funding of scientific research and to offer our participation in education and advocacy. Research investment improves countless lives with better health care, supports hundreds of productive scientists on our campus, and provides jobs that power our local economy. 

An excellent example of how NIH funding makes a difference here was reported last Thursday on Colorado Public Radio. The report told the story of Namourou Konate, an Aurora resident who was rushed to the emergency room when he lost his vision and ability to speak. He was having a mini-stroke, which had been brought on by high blood pressure. As the report notes, “His ER arrival coincided with an NIH funded study looking at high blood pressure. Konate allowed researchers to map his genotype. That led his doctors to switch medications, which has made a big difference.” Featured in the report was the work of Kathleen Barnes, PhD, director of the Colorado Center for Personalized Medicine, and Andrew Monte, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine. The NIH-funded study, led by Kathleen, allowed for the mapping the genome of people with African ancestry. Barnes and her research team have created a “massive genetic catalogue” that includes the largest-ever sequencing of people with African ancestry in the Americas. The report also says that the $10 million NIH grant funds the project and pays for, at least in part, about 70 jobs. 

David Schwartz, MD, chair of medicine, was notified last week that the U.S. Department of Defense has awarded a four-year, $10 million grant for a research project that addresses developing the scientific knowledge needed to predict and prevent the progression of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which affects millions of people and for which there is currently no lifesaving therapy. The goal of David’s multidisciplinary, collaborative team is to develop better tools for identifying the disease preclinically or early in its course, which could make possible effective therapeutics targeted at disease prevention or slowing its progression. One of the project reviewers noted: “Given the current state of affairs for patients with the disease palliative care is the focus, and not much about it is palliative. Patients have no relief of symptoms as they suffer and eventually suffocate, save for extreme end of life when drugs like morphine are often administered. If this diagnostic tool can help move the focus of care on preventative care for at-risk patients so that palliative care isn’t needed, it would improve lives and potentially save lives in the future.” This grant is another example of how important research projects depend on federal support. Congratulations to David and his team. 

Eric M. Poeschla, MD, Tim Gill Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases has been named one of three 2017 recipients of the National Institute on Drug Abuse Avant-Garde Award for HIV/AIDS Research. The National Institute on Drug Abuse is one of the institutes of the NIH. This five-year, $3.9 million basic science grant will fund his laboratory’s research into a novel mouse model in which the “innate immune system” has been stably engineered to provide robust, lifelong protection against diverse virus infections without causing ill effects. His lab is currently seeking postdoctoral scientists to staff the project, including one with skills in RNAseq and associated bioinformatics. Congratulations to Eric on receiving this prestigious award. 

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, who represents the congressional district that includes the Anschutz Medical Campus, is holding a town hall meeting on our campus on Wednesday, April 12, beginning at 6 p.m. The meeting will be in Education Building 2 South. Doors open at 5 p.m. Attendance will be limited, a ticket will be required to enter and priority will be given to residents of the district. Details are available on the congressman’s website. 

I met last week with Denver Health’s new CEO Robin Wittenstein, EdD, to welcome her to Colorado and to discuss the importance of the partnership between the School of Medicine and Denver Health. We had a productive conversation about the needs of our community and the many consequential decisions that state and federal lawmakers are making in the months ahead. Robin brings considerable business and academic leadership experience to her new role and I’m sure she’ll make valuable contributions here. She had been an executive leader at Penn State Health, a network of more than a dozen clinical and academic affiliate hospitals in central Pennsylvania. Prior to that she was president and CEO of University Hospital/University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, a 519-bed academic medical center. 

The Academy of Medical Educators is accepting nominations for its annual Education Awards. All faculty, including volunteer faculty, in the School of Medicine, including the Physical Therapy and Child Health Associate/Physician Assistant programs, are eligible for these awards. The categories include Excellence in Direct Teaching, Excellence in Curriculum Development or Educational Innovation, Excellence in Educational Administration or Leadership, Excellence in Research or Scholarship in Education, and Excellence in Mentoring and Advising. You can find more information and the nomination form on the Academy’s Education Awards webpage. The deadline to submit nominations is Friday, May 5. 

The Art Gallery at the Fulginiti Pavilion held an opening reception last Thursday, March 30, for an extraordinary exhibition of masterpieces by Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Rodin and other European artists. We are grateful to Tobia and Mort Mower, MD, who are sharing their collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures on our campus through May 24. The Mowers joined University leaders, including President Bruce Benson, First Lady Marcy Benson and Chancellor Don Elliman, at the reception. Mort is an adjunct distinguished professor of cardiology and co-inventor of the automatic implantable cardioverter defibrillator. His wife, Toby, has been a nurse for 25 years and an advocate for substance abuse treatment who has helped establish residential recovery homes for those battling drug and alcohol addiction. Their daughter Robin is a clinical oncology pharmacist and a graduate of the CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. We are very fortunate to have this collection on display on campus and I encourage you to stop by the gallery to enjoy the show, Masterworks from the Tobia and Morton Mower Collection. 

Have a good week,

 John J. Reilly, Jr., MD
Richard D. Krugman Endowed Chair
Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and
Dean, School of Medicine

 

The Dean’s weekly message is an email news bulletin from John J. Reilly, Jr., MD, Dean of the CU School of Medicine, that is distributed to inform University of Colorado School of Medicine faculty members, staff, students and others about issues pertaining to the School’s mission of education, research, clinical care and community service.  See previous weekly messages from the Dean →

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