Medicine by the Numbers
Pamela B. Davis, MD, PhD
Our nation loves numbers. For presidential elections, polls begin years before voters cast the first ballots. For economic projections, we get daily—sometimes hourly—updates. And for universities—well, there’s a reason U.S. News & World Report’s annual “Best Colleges” issue sells millions of copies.
In this context, it should come as little surprise that the federal stimulus bill has spawned its own cottage industry of calculations. Schools across the country are touting their latest figures for grant awards and funding. Even when campuses choose to be more reticent, reporters are quick to call to see how different institutions compare.
I am pleased to say that Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine is enjoying significant success. As I write, we have secured more than 100 grants totaling nearly $50 million, and still are awaiting word on many others. As impressive as these totals are, however, they cannot begin to convey the real impact of this financial support. We all appreciate the importance the media places on the jobs immediately created through these dollars—and, indeed, the average RO1 Research Project Grant creates seven jobs. Yet, as is made wonderfully clear in the pages that follow, what matters is what these dollars allow us to do—namely, improve patients’ lives.
The cover article of this issue, for example, focuses on the discovery of a protein that appears to play a key role in inflammation that leads to a heart attack. The implications of this breakthrough are enormous. First, as writer Tamar Nordenberg notes, it could enable emergency room diagnoses in minutes, rather than hours. Longer term, it could pave the way for development of medication that could stop an attack before it starts.
Think for just a moment about what that means. The most recent figures from the American Heart Association estimate that 151,000 people die from a heart attack in one year—a figure that works out to about 17 people every single hour. Now, consider the loved ones of that patient—the spouse, the children, the parents, the siblings and friends. If even a portion of those individuals could be saved, just imagine the joy and relief that would follow.
As I review the stimulus grants we have secured to date, I imagine similarly heartwarming stories. Professor Robert Miller, our vice dean for research, has received funding to continue his pioneering work to develop treatments to reverse the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis. Faculty affiliated with the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center have won grants to advance treatment of skin cancer, colon cancer and brain tumors. Others have been funded to explore the use of electricity to block chronic pain or activate paralyzed muscles. Supplements to our Clinical and Translational Science Award—worth more than $2 million—will enable critical pediatric pharmacology research and support our core facilities to provide services to clinical investigators at the main campus and all our affiliated hospitals. In short, the potential of all of this work is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
And yet, the complexity of the human body means that we always have more to do. To that end, we must match our commitment to performing research with comparable dedication to prepare others for the field. Several of our stimulus applications focused on these efforts; to date we have earned grants to provide training in genetics, molecular therapeutics and global health. These dollars represent a critical investment in the young people who will lead the next generation of innovation. Given the miracles we see today, I cannot wait to witness the results of their efforts.
For now, however, we concentrate on today’s opportunities. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act represents an unprecedented statement of belief in the promise of our work. We will do everything in our power to prove that faith is well-founded.