Competition for funding is a consistent challenge for research institutions, regardless of whether they’re based in the public or private sectors. Medical discoveries don’t come cheaply, however, and while the available stream of federal research dollars has remained relatively constant over the past two decades, the costs associated with scientific investigation have increased.
Beginning in 2015, in an effort to boost both federal and non-federal funding for biomedical and health research and build on its overall research enterprise, the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) shifted its focus to building network-based research programs that support creative, interdisciplinary collaborations. The school turned its attention to three areas critical to the broader research mission — education, infrastructure, and mentorship — and invested in programs in cancer, neuroscience and infectious disease.
“We’ve hired people, both seasoned researchers and young investigators, who are interactive and enthusiastic about collaborating,” says Robert Miller, PhD, senior associate dean for research at SMHS. That focus on finding eager partners has served as a catalyst across disciplines, leading current faculty into fresh areas of inquiry, adds Miller, who also serves as Vice President for Research at GW.
Beyond investment in collaborative faculty members, the school has turned attention to developing shared resources, namely the school’s core lab facilities, including the Research Pathology Core Laboratory, the Nanofabrication and Imaging Center, and the Flow Cytometry Core Facility.
Mentoring junior faculty is also key to growing the success of research at the institution. The school developed several initiatives — including a searchable researcher database, a grant opportunities e-newsletter, and a peer-to-peer learning community — to support these early career faculty members and connect them with the rest of the SMHS research team. Development activities across the school include guidance on research education, promoting research opportunities, and sponsored research support directed by the Associate Dean for Research Workforce Development, Alison Hall, PhD. University-wide programming including research awards, seed grants, and facilitating funds help get research investigations off the ground in preparation for outside funding applications.
SMHS is also growing its cadre of clinician-scientists — who focus on both clinical care and research and often hold dual degrees in medicine and science — to add their valuable clinical insight to our biomedical workforce. The school is working to foster opportunities for clinician-scientists to form effective research networks, find collaborators on campus and off, and partner with mentors in their field of interest.
Overall the results have been significant. “The research enterprise has grown significantly over the last three years as a result of investment from the school and from the university,” Miller explains.
The school’s emphasis on collaborative research has helped investigators land significant program project grants, including a partnership with Children’s National Health System on a Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health and a Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development grant to support research in pediatric dysphagia, which draws upon faculty talent from a range of disciplines.