UM med school expansion set at $100 million

Hiring of 100 scientists among goals for five years

`First-class, blue-chip faculty'

Red Cross research team among the first targeted

May 27, 2004|By David Kohn | David Kohn,SUN STAFF

In an effort to raise its profile as a top research institution, the University of Maryland School of Medicine plans to spend up to $100 million over the next five years for 100 new scientists as well as support staff and equipment.

The hiring has already begun. Earlier this week, the school announced that it had recruited 23 biomedical scientists from the American Red Cross' national research program.

School officials described the privately funded expansion as necessary to keep up with the changing nature of scientific research, which has become increasingly collaborative. To tackle complex problems such as cancer and heart disease, institutions are trying to bring together scientists working in a range of fields.

"Science is becoming multidisciplinary. To be successful in an era of team science, you have to be both broad and deep," said Dr. Howard B. Dickler, the Baltimore institution's senior associate dean for research and graduate studies.

Experts on medical research institutions described the school's plan as ambitious.

"It's a big deal," said Tony Mazzaschi, associate vice president for research at the nonprofit Association of American Medical Colleges, which represents 126 accredited U.S. medical schools. He said the only recent comparable initiative began last month, when South Carolina's two largest medical schools and two of its largest hospital systems joined forces for a 10-year, $160 million research expansion.

Dickler, who is heading the recruitment drive, unveiled the plan to department heads two weeks ago. At the meeting, each department was asked to develop a plan for how it would expand over the five years.

Dr. Stephen Bartlett, acting chairman of the surgery department, called the expansion "pretty spectacular" and said his department would probably focus on novel heart and cancer surgery treatments.

"You can really begin to use your imagination," he said.

The medical school has 1,000 faculty members, of which about 400 are externally funded researchers. Dickler said the 100 new scientists will be "first-class, blue-chip faculty."

The school receives about $110 million annually from the National Institutes of Health, which funds most biomedical research in this country.

From 1997 to 2002, NIH doubled its funding for external research. But next year, this funding, standing at more than $25 billion annually, is likely to increase only slightly. This means that research institutions will find it harder to get more money from the health agency.

Acknowledging that, the University of Maryland School of Medicine's expansion effort will rely on private philanthropic donations. Dickler said the medical school hopes to raise $200 million from private donations by 2007, its bicentennial.

Although it is a public institution, the school receives only 6 percent of its operating budget from the state. The rest comes from private sources, the federal government or revenue from patient care.

The Red Cross researchers, 15 of whom are faculty members at George Washington University's medical school, will begin at Maryland in July. In November, after the Red Cross decided to stop funding its lab to save money, the scientists became the focus of a recruiting battle among several institutions, including George Washington.

Maryland's medical school won largely because of its expansion plan, said vascular biologist Dudley Strickland, one of the lab's top scientists.

"One of the things that was so appealing to us was their vision for growth," he said.

Dickler was equally complimentary, saying that the Red Cross lab was attractive because its work was both innovative and cross-disciplinary. He said the school decided to take the lab as a whole because "the strength of the group is that they're so collaborative."

Strickland and his colleagues are working in several cutting-edge areas. Some researchers are studying how blood vessels maintain their integrity, and how these structures are damaged by inflammation. Others are investigating angiogenesis, the creation of new blood ves- sels. By blocking this process, scientists think they may be able to choke off blood supply to tumors.

A third group is studying novel treatments for hemophilia, focusing on Factor 8, a protein that is missing or damaged in many such patients.

The Red Cross operation includes a team of about 90 employees, among them secretaries and lab technicians, all of whom will jump to the Maryland school in July. Dickler said much of the $100 million for the school's expansion over the next five years will go for such costs - support staff, lab equipment and lab animals.

For the next year, the Red Cross group will occupy its current lab space in Rockville. But next summer, the lab will move to the University of Maryland's west-side BioPark, which is under construction.

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