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Implementation of the Operational Strategic Plan for Research


Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” When one reads these famous words by Albert Einstein, you cannot help but think of the process of change. Ever continual, sometimes grueling, but you must be willing to endure the process in order to progress forward. UTHSC was established in 1911 as UT’s campus committed solely to health science education and research. Ever since, our institution has been dedicated to “bringing the benefits of the health sciences to the achievement and maintenance of human health, with a focus on the citizens of Tennessee and the region, by pursuing an integrated program of education, research, clinical care and public service.”

With the approval of Chancellor Schwab in August 2016, research took on its own change process. UTHSC’s Operational Strategic Plan for Research (OSPR), which took over a year to complete, lays out a pragmatic and comprehensive strategy that will systematically strengthen and grow research at UTHSC over the next five years. The committee of approximately 25 members that were charged to write the Plan were skeptical of what would happen once the document was completed. Dr. Goodman promised the group that the OSPR, once completed, would be implemented.

We’re quickly approaching the first anniversary of when this ambitious plan was approved and many may be wondering what has happened during the first year? The short answer- A lot.

Upon his coming to UTHSC, Vice Chancellor for Research Dr. Steven R. Goodman created the VCR Research Cabinet which is comprised of research leaders representing multiple UTHSC departments, colleges, and campuses. He charged the Research Cabinet to develop a novel approach to implementing the OSPR. The committee was divided into 8 Implementation Teams each with their own team leader(s) who worked to pinpoint which actions items in the OSPR needed to be executed in the first two years.

The Collaborations/Entrepreneurship Implementation Team was led by Dr. Steph Cormier and Dr. Gabor Tigyi. Early wins to note in this area are Master Agreements with Harbin Medical University, Sichuan University/West China Hospital, and Revotek Inc. and the creation of new research, educational, and entrepreneurial collaborations with all.

The Infrastructure Team was led by Dr. Steve Youngentob. As recommended by this team, the unification of all existing pre-and post- award sponsored programs functions under the Office of Research in order to create a “one stop shop” for researchers has been accomplished. Also linked to Research Infrastructure is the streamlining of IACUC policies and new training processes which has led to a 66% reduction in protocol approval time as well as complete reorganization of the LACU.

The Biomedical Informatics Implementation Team, led by Dr. Bob Davis, and the Health Services (T3) and Population Health Research (T4) Team, led by Dr. Teresa Waters and Dr. Jim Bailey, both called for substantive changes in UTHSC Research Information Technology. This led to the creation of a Research IT Task Force. Dr. Goodman charged the Task Force with evaluating the Research IT needs of UTHSC. A research report was presented to Dr. Ken Brown by the Task Force and its recommendations will soon be implemented.

As called for by the Basic Science Implementation Team Report, led by Dr. Matt Ennis and Dr. Subhash Chauhan, a new faculty member Dr. Joseph Pierre has been hired with expertise in Metabolomics. Faculty members have been hired in Focus Areas related to Diseases of the Nervous System: Dr. Changhoon Jee and Dr. Tauheed Ishrat. Also, new Institutes have been established: Dr. Colleen Jonsson will serve as an Endowed Van Vleet Chair of Excellence, Professor in MIB, Director of the RBL, and Director of the Institute for the Study of Host Pathogen Systems. Dr. Subhash Chauhan has taken on the role of Director of a new Institute for Biomarkers and Medical Therapeutics.

As suggested by the Clinical Research Team, led by Dr. Ari VanderWalde and Dr. Karen Johnson, the Clinical Trials Network of Tennessee (CTN2) has been created. This 501(c) 3 will enhance state-wide multi-site clinical trials involving UTHSC faculty, participating hospitals, and our practice plans. The Enterprise Data Warehouse, contracting and billing, and an IRB will be embedded into CTN2. UTHSC’s partner hospitals are currently being recruited as participants.

Comments from the Research Cores Team led by Dr. Tiffany Seagroves and Dr. Bill Armstrong led to iLab Solutions being purchased with the go-live date of August 1st for mBio, PMC, and FCCS cores. In June, a representative from 10x Genomics spoke to faculty about new technology centered on capture of single cells. The instrument was included in the FY18 proposed MRC budget for purchase. Additionally, Small Animal Imaging was identified by research faculty as the next Research Core to be developed in FY19.

The Cross-Cutting Platforms Team, led by Dr. Chester Brown and Dr. Bernd Meibohm, called for action to “mitigate the Medicinal Chemistry bottleneck.” What has been accomplished in the area of Drug Discovery and Development? In May 2017 the Research Council approved the creation of a Drug Discovery Center, appointing Dr. Wei Li as Director. The Office of Research has developed a new UTHSC Medicinal Chemistry Core that is about to open. A UTHSC/Southern Research CORNET Award in Drug Discovery and Development has been created as well as several other CORNET Award opportunities which are in the works as suggested by this Team.

The UTHSC Operational Strategic Plan for Research provides a framework for creating a more robust research environment for our Institution statewide. Anyone with experience writing business plans knows the most important part is not necessarily the writing but the implementation. Many of the goals listed above were written to be accomplished over two years. Given VCR Goodman’s novel approach to implementation, we’ve accomplished most in one. When Dr. Goodman presented these accomplishments to the VCR Research Cabinet they spontaneously applauded. We all share their enthusiasm and see great things ahead for Research at UTHSC.