JHU to take on global health

Center will integrate efforts to fight worldwide disease

May 15, 2006|By DAVID KOHN | DAVID KOHN,SUN REPORTER

The Johns Hopkins University is starting an organization to help coordinate efforts to fight global health threats such as AIDS, malaria, avian flu and heart disease.

Known as the Center for Global Health, it will integrate work done by three existing Hopkins institutions -- the medical school, the nursing school and the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"The three schools are working together on a project that has real impact," said Dr. Edward D. Miller, dean of the School of Medicine.

Those involved say the project, which is to be announced today, is a unique attempt to bridge gaps between medical disciplines and to create complementary groups to study and battle deadly, complex international diseases. Deans at the three schools said that to their knowledge, no other university in the country has tried such a comprehensive collaboration.

"The kinds of problems we have to face require multidisciplinary teams. With these kinds of big problems, we know we need different skills," said Dr. Michael Klag, dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Dr. Richard Guerrant, director of the center of public health at the University of Virginia, said the Hopkins plan is part of a larger trend of researchers trying to collaborate across different disciplines. Although the Hopkins plan is relatively small, Guerrant said he expects similar efforts to begin at other universities now that this one has started.

"This is one of the most important things that universities can be about," Guerrant said. "To my astonishment, it is starting to happen."

The new center will be led by Dr. Thomas Quinn, an infectious-disease expert who already serves on the faculties of the public health and medical schools. Over the past 20 years, he has worked in Africa, Asia and Latin America, studying the nature of the HIV/AIDS infection.

"The most effective way to strengthen our [global health] efforts is to find smart ways to combine and focus them, to create teams of physicians, nurses, entomologists, engineers, basic scientists -- whoever is needed to attack the problem in a coordinated way," said Hopkins president William R. Brody. "That's what the Center for Global Health will help us do."

The center will initially receive $800,000 a year in funding, 70 percent from the medical school, 20 percent from the school of public health, which will also provide office space, and the rest from the nursing school. Quinn said he hopes to attract more money from grants and is in discussions with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others. The Gates Foundation, run by the Microsoft founder, is spending billions of dollars to fight disease in the developing world.

"It doesn't have to be huge," Guerrant said. The "$800,000 can do a lot if there is a critical mass of people."

The idea for the center grew out of discussions between Klag and Quinn. Last spring, the two men began talking about how to integrate work done by disparate faculty. Quinn then brought the proposal to Miller at the medical school and to nursing school dean Martha N. Hill. Over the past year, Quinn has also met with dozens of faculty members from all three schools, soliciting input. In recent months, they ironed out details about how the center will actually work.

Quinn emphasized that the new center will not become a bloated bureaucracy. He said the organization would require little space and few employees, at least at first. The main goal, he said, is to bring researchers and practitioners from the three schools together to create projects and raise funds.

"We're going to be lean," he said. "We want the money to go to the faculty."

The three schools have a total of 2,500 full-time faculty members and projects in more than 100 countries. Quinn said that in many cases, professors at different schools have projects in the same countries -- involving similar topics -- but don't realize it.

"We have the obligation to put it together," said Hill. "We need to look at [these problems] in a comprehensive way."

Quinn said that each school will bring a particular expertise to the undertaking. The school of public health focuses mainly on preventive medicine and large-scale health programs. The medical school emphasizes diagnosis and management of disease, as well as health maintenance, he said, while the school of nursing excels at delivering care to patients.

The center has not initiated any projects, but Quinn has collected information about the approximately 800 international public health projects being carried out by faculty at the three schools. The center will soon develop a searchable Web site listing all of these projects, a tool for faculty interested in potential collaboration.

The faculty "all want to know who's doing what," said Quinn. "These are three very big schools."

david.kohn@baltsun.com

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