Methodist, UH system joining forces for biomedical research, clinical care

02/17/05

Agreement looks ahead to developing health science center collaboration



Morgan Dunn O'Connor, chair of the University of Houston System Board of Regents, gets her vital signs checked by a thermal imaging camera developed by UH's Infrared Imaging Group. Onlookers include (from left to right) Ron G. Girotto, CEO and president of The Methodist Hospital System, Arthur C. Vailas, vice chancellor and vice president of research at UH System and UH, Michael Lieberman, M.D., director of The Methodist Hospital Research Institute, and Colin Puri, a UH graduate student in computer science. Associate Professor Ioannis Pavlidis' research group from the UH computer science department demonstrated ATHEMOS (Automatic THErmal Monitoring System), a system that allows a computer to perform touchless physiological monitoring of its human user, including measurements of blood flow, pulse and breathing rate, which can then be used to draw inferences about a variety of health symptoms on a continuous basis.

Full size image available here

HOUSTON, Feb. 15, 2005 The Methodist Hospital (TMH) and the University of Houston System (UHS) have signed a 30-year agreement to jointly develop health service and education programs and to participate in research efforts and technology transfer, paving the way for the brightest minds to search for the next scientific breakthrough, the next vital treatment and the next important cure.

"Drawing on the University of Houston's excellence in science, we can accelerate our own research and significantly improve the quality of health care for Houstonians and increase biomedical knowledge for the world," said Ron G. Girotto, CEO and president of The Methodist Hospital System.

"It's become increasingly clear that no one entity can perform the level of sophisticated biomedical research required for continued excellence. Or, for that matter, provide the full range of programs needed to develop top-flight health care professionals. By joining forces, the University of Houston System and The Methodist Hospital are taking a vital and necessary step forward to meet the educational and health care needs of our community," said Jay Gogue, chancellor of UHS and president of UH.

The agreement calls for TMH and UHS to share facilities at both institutions for research, training and the education of health professionals, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and interns/residents. Faculty members of The Methodist Hospital Research Institute (TMHRI) and of UHS will be eligible for appointments at both institutions, which will bring some of the world's best scientists and top researchers to Houston and Texas.

An executive committee will oversee all joint activities. Arthur Vailas, vice chancellor and vice president for research at UHS and UH, has been named chairman of the committee. Dr. Michael Lieberman, director of TMHRI, has been named vice chairman.

"This affiliation between a comprehensive research university and an academic medical center is the model for the future," said Lieberman. "It is through such partnerships that we can quickly and effectively translate cutting edge biomedical science into new therapies and prevention strategies for patients."

"This collaborative relationship is unlike any other in the state," added Vailas. "This will lead to more efficacious patient care and increases the probability of making greater discoveries that can be applied to medical care through our joint ventures in clinical and basic research."

The affiliation between UHS and TMH is intended to augment current relationships that both have with other institutions. TMH's primary academic affiliation with Weill Cornell Medical College is recognized as a valuable asset to the UHS/TMS affiliation as well, and efforts will be made to include Weill Cornell in UHS/TMH programs when appropriate. For example, on March 3 and 4, physician scientists from Weill Cornell will meet with their counterparts from Methodist and UH at a research planning symposium at The Methodist Hospital.

The University of Houston System is substantially involved in a number of scientific fields, including pharmacy, optometry, clinical psychology, social work, health law, business and administration, bioinformatics, bionanotechnology, biomedical engineering, nutrition and fitness, communication disorders, imaging and biotechnology training programs. The University of Houston conducts more than $90 million a year in sponsored research, placing it third among the state's comprehensive research universities. Current funding for health-related research and development activities is more than $77 million, which supports approximately 230 projects. Construction is near completion on the $81 million Science and Engineering Research and Classroom Complex, which includes five floors of research space that will accommodate approximately 40 laboratories, including a state of the art "clean room" with a static-free environment insulated from vibrations and air-filtered to remove dust particles.

Similarly, The Methodist Hospital board of directors recently committed $100 million to launch the new Research Institute, reflecting the importance it places on expanding its translational research abilities. The Methodist Hospital Research Institute is a place where scientists from diverse specialties and backgrounds can share ideas and work together to translate the latest laboratory discoveries into effective new treatment strategies. The Institute will begin with research programs that build on Methodist's historic strengths, such as the fields of cardiovascular disease, neuroscience, cancer, transplant, cell and gene therapy and orthopedics.

This affiliation will allow the two institutions to capitalize on such mutual resources.

While there are a number of current collaborations under way between UHS and TMH, these have generally been undertaken on an individual basis. Moving forward, the formal affiliation will permit strategic planning at the highest levels, stimulate greater overall interaction with a broader range of potential projects and allow for combined solicitation of third-party research funding. For example, UH has been unable to apply for any substantial research projects requiring clinical trials. But the affiliation with The Methodist Hospital will now allow the university to successfully attract such funding.

"The UH System Board of Regents made a commitment, beginning with our own strategic plan, to bring our universities' resources to the Texas Medical Center," said Morgan Dunn O'Connor, board chairman. "This affiliation with The Methodist Hospital, with increased opportunities for revolutionary research and education, will bring that dream to reality. The real beneficiary will be the health care community and the general public."

Source: Eurekalert & others

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