Med Ed Reform
Flat NIH funding is threatening the progress of biomedical research, says a new report authored by representatives from nine scientific and medical institutions, including HMS and Partners HealthCare. The report discusses advances made during times of robust funding and how the current funding, nearly level since 2003, has not kept up with inflation. Researchers from around the country explain that stagnant funding has already slowed progress in developing treatments for ailments such as cancer and spinal cord injuries. “The number of drugs moving into the pipeline that are based on our new, more profound genetic and molecular understanding of cancer is extraordinary—and there’s no money to handle the testing of these compounds,” said Joan Brugge (pictured), HMS professor of cell biology and chair of that department.
Within Our Grasp—Or Slipping Away? Assuring a New Era of Scientific and Medical Progress was released on March 19, the same day a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing was held with Senators Tom Harkin and Arlen Specter to discuss the NIH budget. Brugge was one of four scientists to testify about the hardships caused by the lack of increases at the NIH. To view the report, visit http://hms.harvard.edu/public/news/nih_funding.pdf.
In addition to this report, a new website, Science Progress, also went live on the 19th to support efforts toward increasing the NIH budget. The site illustrates the benefits of committed NIH funding, telling the stories of HMS researchers in their development of a cholera vaccine and the first in a new class of therapy against cancer. More stories on Medical School research are planned for the site (http://scienceprogress.hms.harvard.edu).
HMS dean Joseph Martin and Genetics Department chair Clifford Tabin have brought together a crossdisciplinary group of faculty to focus on the future of human genetics at Harvard, not just at HMS.
The first goal of the Human Genetics Advisory Committee is to define the field of human genetics; which Harvard faculty members work within the field; and what research, teaching, and clinical efforts are encompassed by it. Once this has been accomplished, the committee will try to identify ways the disparate efforts across Harvard can be better drawn together to develop a greater sense of community and promote new initiatives to enhance and galvanize the future of human genetic science and practice at Harvard. Among the areas the committee will be looking at are population genetics, medical genetics, and clinical genetics, as well as genetic counseling, educational programs, project grants, and training grants. Faculty members involved with any aspect of human genetics are encouraged to inform the advisory committee of their work (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The advisory committee—with researchers from the HMS Quad departments and hospitals, HMS–Partners HealthCare Center for Genetics and Genomics, HSPH, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences—is looking at existing models of cross-institutional activities, such as the Dana–Farber/Harvard Cancer Center and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. The committee plans to issue a report in May that provides a landscape and possible architecture for a Harvard-wide human genetics program (committee members are listed in the online version of this story).
“I’m looking forward to hearing what the committee suggests,” said Tabin.
The report will be submitted to the Harvard University Science and Education Committee (HUSEC) for consideration.
It is not surprising that the Armenise amphitheater was packed, mostly with students, at the Feb. 22 talk by Tadataka Yamada, president of the Global Health Program of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: there, he oversees grants of more than $6 billion. Yamada addressed “Perspectives on Global Health” as part of the World Health Forum Series hosted by the HMS Office for Diversity and Community Partnership.
Yamada called disease in the developing world a “moral tragedy.” Eleven million babies die every year, mostly in the developing world and mostly from preventable causes. Money alone will not solve problems like this, he said, because “money does not create sustainable solutions.”
What is needed is a more collaborative approach melding business savvy with public health. “Business principles can be applied to solutions in health care in the developing world,” he argued. “…Business principles must be applied.” He singled out implementation as a focus for market-based analysis to determine best practices in getting programs off the ground.
Building on this business perspective, Yamada said that leaders in global health have to have the discipline to measure the effectiveness of what they do as well as the courage to fail since thinking big and taking risks is fundamental to success.
Value Shown in Supporting Younger Women Scientists
Researchers at HMS and Massachusetts General Hospital have found that a grant program for early-career female physicians and scientists has been demonstrably effective, resulting in the retention and advancement of the award winners during a challenging period in their careers and personal lives. One study appears in the Feb. 27 Archives of Internal Medicine.
The Archives study authors surveyed winners of the Claflin Distinguished Scholar Awards, established at MGH in 1997 to provide funding to women who are within the first seven years of their first faculty appointment and who are raising young children. The awards were modeled after and are presented as part of the Eleanor and Miles Shore 50th Anniversary Fellowship Program for Scholars in Medicine, established at HMS in 1995 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the admission of women to the Medical School.
Of the 40 Claflin recipients through 2006, 36 are still at MGH, and 22 have received HMS promotions. MGH has given $2.1 million to the program, and the recipients have procured $51 million in outside funding.
Recipients say the award came at a critical time in their careers, when family obligations threatened their ability to secure funding, lab space, and personnel. They also say the award boosted morale and confidence.
The researchers hope that the paper will inspire other institutions to adopt similar programs. “There is no reason to believe that such a program would not be as successful at other academic medical centers as it has been at MGH,” said Nancy Tarbell, the C.C. Wang professor of radiation oncology at HMS and MGH and an author on the study.
In a separate web-based study conducted from July 2004 to June 2005, the HMS Office for Faculty Affairs and the Center for Excellence in Women’s Health similarly found that the 50th Anniversary awards as a whole have made a positive impact on the careers of women scientists. According to that survey, 94 percent of recipients had published since receiving a fellowship, and 86 percent had secured outside funding.
New Appointments to Full Professor
The following HSPH faculty members were appointed in February.
On Match Day, Internal Medicine Leads List of Popular Residencies
On the 55th annual Match Day, 180 HMS students, and more than 15,000 across the country, tore open their envelopes and learned where they will do their residencies. More than half of the HMS grads will remain in Massachusetts, with 7 percent going to New York City and 18 percent heading to California. The most popular specialty is internal medicine, with pediatrics and emergency medicine tying for second. Specialties that saw an increase in the percentage of HMS students matched compared to last year include anesthesia, radiology, and neurology, while pediatrics, emergency medicine, and family practice saw a decrease. According to the National Resident Matching Program, a record number of fourth-years applied for residencies this year.
Above, Donnie Bell gets a hug from a friend after learning he was matched to Massachusetts General Hospital.
Nominations Sought for Biostatistics Award
The Myrto Lefkopoulou Lectureship is awarded to a promising biostatistical scientist who has made contributions to either collaborative or methodologic research in the application of statistical methods to biology or medicine or excellence in the teaching of biostatistics. Nominations, including a CV, should be sent to the Myrto Lefkopoulou Lecture Committee, Department of Biostatistics, HSPH, 655 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115. For more information, visit http://www.biostat.harvard.edu/events/awards/myrto/.