In 2019, UTHSC achieved record-breaking growth in research funding. Year-end numbers from the Office of Research show grants and contract awards for FY19 totaling over $100 million for the first time in UTHSC history. This number represents a tremendous leap over a 3-year period, with funding jumping nearly 20%, from approximately $84 million in all sponsored dollars in FY16 to today’s total of $100,349,177. Roughly half of these funds come from Federal Sources.
These increases began in FY16, the year then newly appointed Vice Chancellor for Research, Dr. Steven Goodman, unveiled an ambitious strategic plan for restructuring the research enterprise at UTHSC. His UTHSC Operational Strategic Plan for Research (OSPR) – written over the course of a year by a team of UTHSC research faculty leaders recruited from all six colleges and three campuses – laid out a pragmatic 5-year course of action to strengthen research at UTHSC, with the robust goal of doubling research over a 10-year period.
The plan emphasized an interdisciplinary, interprofessional, and entrepreneurial environment was necessary for research success. It prescribed focus on building teams of interdisciplinary researchers across colleges and campuses who would work together within six areas of excellence, each of which had three specified focus areas. Since 2016, these plans have been achieved due to carefully thought out strategies created by eight Implementation Teams coming from the VCR’s Research Cabinet. Their yearly progress reports show achievement of nearly every benchmark goal.
Equally important as creating this new, interdisciplinary culture was providing the resources and infrastructure necessary for it to thrive. Action items within the OSPR included hiring new leadership team members, utilizing new and newly renovated space to stimulate cross-disciplinary interaction, and creating institutional research cores and Institutes essential for developing large interdisciplinary team-oriented grant proposals. The infrastructure enhancements have resulted in improved staff quality, more robust training, streamlined processes, and better contracting times for sponsored programs (which are now above national benchmarks).
The past year’s growth was also fed by a number of initiatives developed to encourage collaboration among researchers on campus as well as nationally and globally. Some of the highlights of the vision supplied by VCR Goodman and the Operational Strategic Plan for Research are:
- Creating fertile ground for large interdisciplinary grants, by developing new research institutes and consortia, such as the Institute for the Study of Host Pathogen Systems; the Memphis Consortium on Sickle Cell Disease and Classical Hematology Research; the Tennessee Clinical and Translational Science Institute (TN-CTSI); and the Memphis Institute for Regenerative Medicine (MIRM). The Institute of Host Pathogen Systems has already received a multi-year NIH U19 grant for close to $23 million.
- Goodman establishing the Collaborative Research Network (CORNET) grants, a major contributor to growth the UTHSC research awards. To date, the CORNETs, which are designed to break down barriers to collaboration, have reached an ROI of $14.3 million from a $1.6 million investment. CORNET awards have offered seed funding to over 46 collaborative research teams.
- The VCR’s team developing an entrepreneurial culture via internal and external collaboration and partnerships. An outstanding success in this area is the Clinical Trials Network of Tennessee (CTN2), a site management organization (SMO) to enable UTHSC clinical faculty researchers to design, solicit, and conduct robust statewide clinical trials at multiple partner hospitals and practice plans throughout the State of Tennessee. Supporting it is the Clinical Trials Governance Board (CTGB), which seeks to grow clinical research by promoting access to resources and opportunities for investigators and faculty throughout the UTHSC system.
“With the UTHSC OSPR we supplied a vision that was then followed by an Implementations Plan. The Implementation Plan required improving the research infrastructure to accelerate faculty success and providing a fresh and creative approach to growing research The successes achieved in just three years place us in a position to realize the UTHSC goal of doubling research in ten years. More importantly, is allows the UTHSC faculty to accelerate the process of improving the Health of Tennesseans, the nation, and the global community.”
—Steven R. Goodman, Vice Chancellor for Research