Departments Post Gains in NIH Research Grants

Reflecting the growing recognition of the University of Miami as one of the nation’s preeminent research institutions, six of the Miller School of Medicine’s departments rose in national rankings based on the size of the research grants they received from the National Institutes of Health during the 2013 federal fiscal year. The gains were especially significant in a year that saw across-the-board reductions in NIH grants due to sequester-mandated federal budget cuts.

Overall, according to the rankings compiled by the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research, the Miller School received $101.6 million. That total placed the School in the top 40 nationally and maintained its standing as the leading recipient in the state of Florida. The NIH grants are vital for advancing research that leads to a greater understanding of a wide variety of diseases and public health issues.

“The numbers in the NIH rankings tell an important story,” said Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Miller School and CEO of UHealth. “They demonstrate, together with outstanding publications, patents and novel cures, the vitality of the biomedical research being conducted at the Miller School. To have increased NIH funding in many of our departments, at a time when overall NIH funding is being reduced, is acknowledgement by our peers that our work is of critical importance.”

This year, five Miller School departments ranked in the top 20 nationally against their peers: Neurosurgery (No. 4), Public Health Sciences (No. 8), Ophthalmology (No. 13), Otolaryngology (No. 15) and Neurology (No. 16).

The six departments that moved up were, in order, Cell Biology, Otolaryngology, Pathology, Neurology, Microbiology and Immunology, and Obstetrics and Gynecology. Leading the group, the Department of Cell Biology rose 19 places in national ranking against peer departments to No. 36, with a year-over-year gain of 64 percent and a total of more than $3.6 million in funding.

The Department of Otolaryngology posted a 62.4 percent gain, rising six places to No. 15 in its field with nearly $1.5 million. The Department of Pathology received $4.9 million, a 12 percent gain that took it up six places to No. 38. The Department of Neurology received $9 million, a 6.7 percent increase that brought it up one place to No. 16. The Department of Microbiology and Immunology received $7.6 million, up 5.7 percent and two spots to No. 33. The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology had no funding increase, but the $161,000 it received brought it up six points in the ranking, to No. 61, because many peer departments experienced a reduction in funding.

Twenty-two principal investigators, 10 of whom ranked in the top 5 percent nationally in their departmental specialty, received more than $1 million each, generating nearly 50 percent of the Miller School’s total NIH funding.

José Szapocznik, Ph.D., professor and Chair of Public Health Sciences, was the school’s highest NIH-funded researcher, with $6.5 million in awards – more than half of the total grants awarded to his department – which earned him the No. 3 spot in a national field of 388. A significant portion of Szapocznik’s funding was the annual installment of a five-year $20 million NIH commitment to the Miami Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Establishment of the CTSI has made the Miller School part of an elite consortium of 60 institutions working to accelerate the pace of biomedical discoveries. Work supported by the CTSI is transforming UM’s approach to translational and clinical research, while delivering outstanding research training and service for our community.

David I. Watkins, Ph.D., professor of pathology, was the second highest funded Miller School researcher, with $3.5 million, making him No. 17 of 912, in the top 2 percent of his specialty. Watkins’ current significant research interest is the development of an HIV vaccine, which has particular relevance to Miami because Miami-Dade County has the highest incidence of new HIV infections in the U.S.

Also ranked in the top 2 percent in their specialties were Ralph L. Sacco, M.D., M.S., professor and Chair of Neurology, and Olemberg Family Chair in Neurological Disorders, with $3.3 million (No. 15 of 719), and Savita Pahwa, M.D., professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology, and Director of the Miami Center for AIDS Research, with $3.1 million (No. 18 of 1,010).

Four faculty members passed the $2 million mark: Margaret A. Fischl, M.D., professor of medicine, $2.8 million, up from $1.2 million in 2012; Joshua M. Hare, M.D., Director of the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute, Chief Sciences Officer, and Louis Lemberg Professor of Medicine, $2.7 million; Sara J. Czaja, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, $2.4 million, up from $1.9 million in 2012; and Norma Sue Kenyon, Ph.D., Chief Innovation Officer, Vice Provost for Innovation and the Martin Kleiman Professor of Surgery, Microbiology and Immunology, and Biomedical Engineering, $2.2 million.

Rounding out the faculty in the top 5 percent of NIH funding in their specialties were W. Dalton Dietrich, Ph.D., Scientific Director of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and professor of neurological surgery, $1.5 million, now leading the first-ever clinical trial using Schwann cell transplantation for new spinal cord injuries, and Xue Z. Liu, M.D., professor of otolaryngology, $1.5 million.

”The NIH funding increases received by Miller School academic departments and principal investigators support a broad spectrum of biomedical interests,” said Omaida Velazquez, M.D., Executive Dean for Research, Research Education and Innovative Medicine and the David Kimmelman Endowed Chair in Vascular and Endovascular Surgery. “The additional funding is an important recognition of many of our areas of strength as a research institution.”

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