Let's Play Ball
Pamela B. Davis, MD, PhD
Four decades ago, a promising young scientist sought his first professorship. He had a PhD from Johns Hopkins, prestigious postdoctoral fellowships and a strong record of early publications. Out of all the institutions in the world to begin a research career, he chose Case Western Reserve.
Why? Three reasons:
1. The campus offered a critical mass of talented scientists across the disciplines.
2. The city provided outstanding hospitals and associated facilities affiliated with the university.
3. The researchers at this institution wanted to work together to defeat disease.
Today biology professor Arnold Caplan has more than 360 published journal articles, all or part of 20 patents, and all manner of achievement awards from national organizations. He also plays a starring role in this issue's cover story about the potential of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to reverse the ravages of multiple sclerosis. Caplan and neurosciences professor Robert Miller first discovered the impact of MSCs; their research since has led to clinical trials with patients at Cleveland Clinic-using marrow extracted from the patients at University Hospitals Case Medical Center.
As Caplan observes in the article: “It's great, the way top experts in different subspecialties get together here and play ball.”
He speaks the truth. In August, for example, medicine professor Randall Cebul and his colleagues published findings in the New England Journal of Medicine that showed electronic health records positively impacted the quality of care-and outcomes-for diabetes patients. The research involved 27,207 participants, 569 primary-care providers and 46 practices. It is under the auspices of Better Health Greater Cleveland, a regional nonprofit that involves nearly 50 institutions including hospitals, insurers, employers and Case Western Reserve.
Then, in September, we celebrated four years of the $64-million Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA), the single largest NIH grant ever made in Northeast Ohio. Not only did the effort involve extraordinary cooperation among the region's major health institutions, but it also directly served 800 physicians and researchers across them. We integrated services and programs across organizations, which in turn accelerated opportunities for collaboration. The efforts ultimately increased the proportion of new federal dollars for clinical and translational research by a remarkable 57 percent.
A significant element of our CTSA involves outreach directly to our community. In October those efforts won a historic endorsement-a $25-million commitment from the Weatherhead Foundation. The Weatherhead Institute for Family Medicine and Community Health brings together faculty across disciplines to educate future community health leaders even as it advances current research. Al Weatherhead and his wife, Celia, decided to establish the institute before Al died in September, and family-medicine leader and professor George Kikano has agreed to lead it. Given the university's record of success through shared efforts, and Kikano's passion for this area, I am confident that this will be yet another example of Caplan's point: Pulling together pays off-for students, faculty and, most of all, patients.