Research funding at UTHCT tops more than $11 million annually for the first time

Monday, September 26, 2005

During this past year, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler has made great strides in biomedical research, with research dollars topping more than $11 million annually for the first time and the opening of a new $11.5 million addition to UTHSCT’s Center for Biomedical Research.

In August 1981, the picture was quite different. Research at UTHSCT was in its infancy, as the academic medical center sought to hire a chief of immunology and microbiology. Plans were made to add a Department of Biochemistry and to recruit more faculty for the Department of Immunology and Microbiology. Research funding totaled just $701,576, according to UTHSCT’s 1980-81 Annual Report.

The research effort may have been relatively small, but that didn’t keep UTHSCT administrators and scientists in the early 1980s from dreaming big. They had the vision and the drive to make UTHSCT a world-class biomedical research center. They were already planning the construction of the original Center for Biomedical Research building, which was completed in June 1987.

In a span of just 24 years, UTHSCT’s annual research dollars have increased almost 16-fold. This didn’t happen by accident. It is the result of the leadership and dedication of many UTHSCT scientists and administrators.

That dedication was evident this past April, when the new addition to the Center for Biomedical Research was dedicated. The wing adds 30,000 square feet to the original building’s 73,000 square feet.

"This is a landmark in our history. These 17 new labs help us recruit new faculty. And our faculty members are very productive, bringing in more than $10 million in research money this year," said Dr. Steven Idell, vice president for research at UTHSCT, during the dedication of the new wing.

UTHSCT President Dr. Kirk A. Calhoun said, "Our researchers are investigating how to slow the growth of cancer and lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis. If we can control these kinds of inflammatory processes, we can better manage these diseases." UTHSCT scientists also are looking into how and why we age, how infectious diseases spread, and how to detect and prevent bioterrorism, he said.

Dr. Idell said, "Our researchers are funded by more than 80 grants from the National Institutes of Health and other sources, an increase of more than 40 percent over last year. This year, we received double the amount of research dollars we received in 2000."

Currently, the NIH funds only the top 16 percent of research proposals submitted by scientists throughout the United States, so UTHSCT programs are clearly among the most competitive in the country.

Ninety percent of the new wing is lab space, including a Biosafety Level 3 lab suite and support areas. BSL-3 labs have special safety features, including an air-handling system, that enable laboratory staff to safely analyze bacteria and other microbes that cause infectious diseases.

Dr. Calhoun said, "Our scientists bring research income to East Texas. We’re proud to say that we are the biotechnology leader in this region. We intend to build on that reputation. Our goal is to become a national leader in biomedical research."

Tom Mullins, president of the Tyler Economic Development Council and chairman and chief executive officer of the Tyler Chamber of Commerce, said a master plan for a 120-acre biotechnology park next to the UTHSCT campus is almost completed. The next step is to construct roads and other infrastructure in the park.

"Biotechnology is one of the top five priorities of Texas Gov. Rick Perry. This is important to more than just Tyler and Smith County," he said. The larger lab will both advance medical science and boost the East Texas economy, Mullins said.

The new lab space has enabled the Health Center to hire five new researchers: one each from Harvard University, Yale University, the University of Chicago, the University of Georgia, and the University of Pittsburgh.

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