Multidisciplinary biomedical research center coming to ETSU


JOHNSON CITY (July 25, 2014) – East Tennessee State University’s first-ever biomedical center for research is on its way to campus.

The Tennessee Board of Regents, on June 30, approved the university’s proposal to create the multidisciplinary research center for the study of inflammation, infectious disease and immunity.

“Those have been areas of strength at this college for years, but it has been a lot of individual people working on individual projects,” said Dr. David Williams, a professor of surgery at the Quillen College of Medicine and co-director of the new center. “Science today is being done by large groups of people with different areas of expertise focused on a specific problem in society. This center will serve as a catalyst and a platform for doing that here.”

While many ETSU researchers within the biomedical fields have been collaborating on projects for years, the process has not been a formalized one.

“The goal is to have people with diverse backgrounds working together on this research. People from other parts of ETSU’s Academic Health Sciences Center and other parts of the university as a whole will be involved in this,” Williams said. “You’ll have all these people under one umbrella and the center will be able to help coordinate their efforts.”

Multidisciplinary, or interprofessional, research and education are the wave of the future in health science fields, according to Dr. Robert Means, dean of the College of Medicine.

“The model for medical research going forward is going to be team-based, translational research – combining basic scientists with physician scientists,” Means said. “The approval of the center will provide a structure to facilitate this mode of research so we can unite to come up with things that can improve the health of the community.”

Garnering grant funding is another important reason for the creation of such a center.

“The National Institutes of Health emphasizes multidisciplinary research,” said center co-director Dr. Jonathan Moorman, a professor of medicine at ETSU and section chief for infectious diseases at the Quillen VA Medical Center. “They expect it nowadays, so this is really going to strengthen our opportunities for grant funding.”

That benefit, Williams noted, couldn’t come at a better time.

“To secure grant funding for research has always been difficult. However, it is harder today than it has ever been,” Williams said. “We need to gang up on this problem and work together to obtain research funding. That is the only way we will be competitive when it comes to securing grant money.”

It is also a way for the College of Medicine, and the university as a whole, to stay competitive in attracting quality students to study at ETSU, Williams said.

“There are a lot of multidisciplinary centers in the state, but very few are biomedically oriented,” he explained. “We’ll be educating residents, graduate students, medical students and post-doctoral fellows. We’ll be providing them with formal training that will help advance their education and ultimately their careers. Our goal is to attract the best and brightest people to work in the center.”

Both Williams and Moorman trained in similar multidisciplinary research centers and have continued to focus on collaborative and interdisciplinary research in their respective careers. Means, who has a long track record as a federally funded investigator, was involved with a similar translational science center at the University of Kentucky prior to taking on his role as an ETSU dean earlier this year.

“We know it’s a model that works and there’s a very strong foundation for it here,” Williams said. “We already have had widespread interest in the center.”

Williams and Moorman will spend about a year establishing the identity of the center, organizing the administrative arm of it, inviting faculty to join and determining how the center will be structured and governed.

While the center is just in the beginning stages, its co-directors are confident in its future success at ETSU and the impact work being done there will have on the world of health.

“The center is going to provide state-of-the-art research into diseases that affect people right here in the region and all over the world,” Moorman said. “What we are studying, this is at the core of most human disease.”

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