by Jaron Terry, APR
The National Science Foundation ranks The Ohio State University ninth among United States research universities overall and second in industry-sponsored research. Ohio State’s rapid rise into the Top 10 resulted from an academic culture that encourages and rewards collaboration and a rapidly growing health sciences center that skillfully turns collaboration into results.
In the long history of humankind (and animalkind, too), those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”
These are the words of legendary biologist Charles Darwin, whose 200th birthday was celebrated earlier this year, and they can just as easily be applied to organizations as to humans and animals.
In fact, ask any researcher at Ohio State to explain the University’s spectacular rise over the past decade in the National Science Foundation (NSF) ranking of research universities in the United States, and he or she is likely to mention the breadth and depth of OSU faculty expertise and a culture that encourages – and rewards – interdepartmental collaboration among investigators.
For 2007, the most current data available, the NSF ranks Ohio State seventh nationally among all public universities in total research expenditures and second in industry-sponsored research. Rankings are based on a tally of research support from a host of federal agencies along with funding from state government, industry, foundations and other organizations. Research growth is based on expenditures, rather than grants and awards, as expenditures more accurately reflect research activity within a given year.
“Among all universities public and private, we now rank ninth, which I believe reflects the high degree of collaboration among and between Ohio State’s 18 colleges, including investigators at the Medical Center, which accounts for more than one-third of the University’s research expenditures,” says Caroline Whitacre, PhD, vice president for Research at Ohio State.
As former associate vice president for Research at Ohio State’s Medical Center, a post she held from 2001 to 2008, Whitacre is familiar with the important symbiotic connection that exists among the larger University and its Health Sciences colleges.
She notes that this very strong interrelationship – as well as the significant contribution the Medical Center and Health Sciences alone have made toward achieving this noteworthy stature – is even more apparent to her in her new role.
“I look across the landscape of the entire University, which includes the Medical Center, and see all of the ‘what ifs’ that exist when investigators act as a team across disciplinary and college boundaries,” Whitacre explains, citing the recent National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical and Translational Science Award as a model for encouraging and ultimately financially supporting ongoing collaboration.
Steven G. Gabbe, MD, Ohio State’s senior vice president for Health Sciences, agrees. “One of the most remarkable strengths we have – that very few other universities enjoy – is the close physical proximity of our health science colleges and major research institutes,” he asserts. “Nearly every one of them sits side-by-side.
“Research today is a team sport,” adds Gabbe, who also is chief executive officer of the Medical Center. “The old days when a principal investigator and his or her team worked in isolation are a thing of the past. Because science is so complex, it requires such breadth and depth of knowledge that people of different backgrounds, skills and approaches are called upon to work together.
“By being situated side-by-side, opportunities for casual conversation with investigators from other disciplines – be it walking down the hallway, sitting in a seminar or eating lunch at the Faculty Club – can result in new ideas that not only complement and advance research, but can help translate basic science findings into clinical research to create innovative new treatments and therapies.”
According to Gabbe, Ohio State’s Biomedical Research Tower (BRT) has served as a backdrop for many productive conversations. Opened in 2006, the BRT currently houses more than 500 research staff. This year, the three final floors are scheduled to be fully furnished and functional, each adding 24,000 square feet of laboratory space for disciplines such as experimental therapeutics, pharmacology and cancer research, to name a few, that will enable the discovery of innovative, personalized treatments.
Clinical and Translational Science Award
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), which increased its emphasis on encouraging collaboration among medical and scientific disciplines, recently awarded the Medical Center – along with Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Ohio State’s seven Health Sciences colleges – a $34-million, five-year Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA).
“With this grant, Ohio State joins a consortium of elite medical centers charged by the NIH with developing innovative research methods and approaches that bring new treatments faster and more efficiently to patients,” says principal investigator Rebecca Jackson, MD, professor of Internal Medicine and associate dean for Clinical Research in the College of Medicine.
One of the largest research grants in Ohio State’s history came from a team effort that received one of the best scores ever given by the NIH to a CTSA applicant. Scoring is based on the quality of each applicant’s clinical and translational research enterprise, training programs, informatics capabilities, interdisciplinary collaboration and partnerships with private and public organizations.
Power of One
“By leveraging the tremendous intellectual resources throughout the University and connecting people on the clinical campus with those in basic sciences research, we realize the power that comes from acting as one entity,” says Clay Marsh, MD, who was named senior associate vice president for Health Sciences Research and executive director of Ohio State’s Center for Personalized Health Care in June. “This is reflected in the University’s great showing in the NSF ranking.”
“Over the years that Caroline Whitacre held this post, we made dramatic progress in translating basic science discoveries into clinical realities,” says Marsh, who is also vice dean for Research in Ohio State’s College of Medicine. “So, we are now setting the bar higher. Our goal is to rank among the top 20 academic medical centers by 2015 and to be a Top-10 NCI-funded [National Cancer Institute] cancer center,” he adds.
According to Marsh, one way to reach these goals – and to ensure the University continues to achieve prominence in the NSF ranking – is to increase the volume of funding received for biomedical research throughout the University.
“The highest-impact research gets funded – that is our consistent message to our investigators,” Marsh explains. “However, one of the greatest challenges all universities and academic medical centers face in today’s economy is a shrinking pool of resources from which funding comes.”
Because it is likely that there will be less money available in the future, regardless of the quality or breadth of research, Medical Center leaders are putting new processes in place – and strengthening already successful processes – to ensure that the Medical Center continues its remarkable momentum.
“Already we are realizing the benefits of our Integrated Biomedical Science Graduate Program (IBGP), which was created in 2000 to train a new breed of researchers in recognition of the growing interrelationships among medical disciplines,” Marsh says. IBGP faculty also then collaborated with faculty from Neuroscience, Biomedical Engineering and the College of Medicine’s Independent Study Program to create a critical professional track: the Medical Scientist Program, which involves rigorous training in both clinical medicine and basic research, and leads to a dual MD and PhD degree.
In addition to streamlining the research grant preparation and application process, Marsh’s office is focused on bringing medical doctors and research scientists together more regularly in situations where they can complement one another and form multidisciplinary teams that connect academic, basic science and clinical perspectives to address challenging health problems. Central to these collaborations are the Medical Center’s more than a dozen research centers and institutes and 25 core research laboratories, in addition to related research centers campuswide.
“We have had numerous, highly competitive successes – really amazing strides on a number of fronts – with one main goal: meaningful research that helps people,” Marsh says. “Our commitment is to improve people’s lives and shape the future of medicine. We do that by creating, disseminating and applying new knowledge that leads to better, more personalized health care for each person.”
To focus efforts and promote biomedical and clinical discoveries that lead to improved treatments and therapies, Medical Center leaders have identified six Signature Programs that hold the greatest promise for Ohio State’s future growth and distinction: Cancer, Critical Care, Heart, Imaging, Neurosciences and Transplantation.
“A significant part of the Medical Center’s contribution to Ohio State’s jump in the NSF rankings has come through the notable successes of the University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center and the recently funded NIH Clinical and Translational Science Award,” he adds.
“OSU Medical Center has long been known for excellence in patient care,” says Wiley W. “Chip” Souba, MD, ScD, vice president and executive dean for Health Sciences. “Our clinical reputation for quality and compassion extends regionally, nationally and, in fact, internationally.”
Souba, who also is dean of Ohio State’s College of Medicine, notes that the current economic downturn, along with shrinking federal, state and private reimbursements (which have been in decline for more than a decade), puts pressure on clinical income and its ability to provide support for many research and training programs.
Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center
Perhaps the best example of a Universitywide collaboration that results in scientific synergy is Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC-James).
“Twelve of the University’s 18 colleges, as well as Nationwide Children’s Hospital, are represented among our nearly 300 scientists, all of whom are focused on cancer research,” says Michael Caligiuri, MD, director of Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center and CEO of The James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.
Leading the largest research center at Ohio State, Caligiuri and his labs are internationally renowned. Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center is ranked among the top 20 in the United States by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
“The OSUCCC – James reaches into every corner of the University to bring together investigators who meet monthly in one of several scientific groups or disease-specific groups. Each group explores the causes, prevention and treatment of different types of cancer,” Caligiuri notes.
Over the past 10 years, the OSUCCC – James has more than quadrupled the funds it receives from the NCI, which has awarded Ohio State six program project grants that alone total more than $70 million.
“The OSUCCC – James is the model of Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee’s vision for ‘trans-institutional’ programs, in which we cut across colleges and traditional academic boundaries to achieve synergy for scientific and clinical success. In cancer research, this not only improves our chances of obtaining millions of dollars in research funding, but more importantly it improves the likelihood of bettering people’s lives,” Caligiuri adds.
“A hallmark of our excellence is the organization’s tri-part mission, which includes research and education as well as clinical care,” he explains. “It is imperative that we maintain balance among the three, as they are inextricably linked.
“OSU is blessed to have a robust clinical enterprise because part of its profitability goes right back into supporting education and research,” he notes. Souba is responsible for monitoring the integration of the Medical Center’s three mission areas.
“We are also blessed to have a College of Medicine that is now ranked ninth among public medical schools by U.S.News & World Report, and has gained 17 positions since 2003, more than any other medical school,” says Souba. “The strength of our education mission enriches clinical expertise which, in turn, attracts world-class researchers, resulting in new discoveries that further bolster patient care; each aspect strengthens the others.
“The fact that our academic medical center is an integral component of a major, internationally renowned university creates a formidable entity that truly has the power to improve the lives of patients and families worldwide,” he adds.
Ohio State Health Sciences Research Vignettes:
Leader of the Pack
Every year since 2002, Ohio State has led the country in the number of faculty members elected as fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The world’s largest scientific organization, AAAS recognizes outstanding accomplishments of individuals within respective academic disciplines, as decided by their peers. In 2008, 15 Ohio State faculty members were recognized. Following Ohio State in the number of fellows named last year were the University of Illinois, the University of California – Berkeley, University of Michigan, University of Texas, Yale University, Harvard University, the University of California – Riverside and the University of California – Irvine.
Ohio State’s Heart and Vascular Center – the Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital and the Dorothy M. Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute – collaborates with scientists in numerous colleges, institutes and core laboratories across campus to translate basic science discoveries about heart and lung diseases into improved and personalized clinical care. Through Ohio State’s Cardiovascular Clinical and Translational Research Organization (CCTRO), more than 100 funded clinical research projects – spanning heart failure, interventional cardiology, sleep disorders, electrophysiology, noninvasive imaging, exercise and prevention, vascular biology, cardiac genotyping and pulmonary hypertension – are transforming patient care and providing new and better approaches for the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular diseases. Other Ohio State Health Sciences research centers and institutes include:
Center for Advanced Robotic Surgery
Center for Biostatistics
Center for Integrative Medicine
Center for IT Innovations in Health Care
Center for Knowledge Management
Center for Microbial Interface Biology
Center for Minimally Invasive Surgery
Center for Molecular Neurobiology
Center for Women’s Health
Comprehensive Transplant Center
Comprehensive Wound Center
Dardinger Neuro-Oncology Center
Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research
Primary Care Research Institute
Sports Medicine Center
- The Ohio State University ranks ninth among all U.S. universities in total research expenditures, seventh among public universities. It ranks second in industry-sponsored research.
- Much of Ohio State’s success is credited to a culture that promotes collaboration and the proximity of the health sciences colleges and research institutes to one another.
- Central to Ohio State’s health sciences research enterprise are more than a dozen research centers and institutes and 25 core research laboratories.
Caroline Whitacre, PhD
Steven G. Gabbe, MD
Clay Marsh, MD
Wiley W. “Chip” Souba, MD, ScD