BRI Makes Strides in 2011, Looks Ahead to 2012
Inset: Joseph Loscalzo. At right, a rendering of the Brigham Building for the Future
BWH Clinical & Research News sat down with Joseph Loscalzo, MD, PhD, chairman of the Department of Medicine and BWH’s Biomedical Research Institute (BRI) director, to talk about the BRI’s accomplishments in 2011 and its goals for 2012. Loscalzo describes the financial challenges that all institutions, not only BWH, will face in the coming months. He also praises the time the BRI has invested in helping develop and advance the research mission, documented in the final report of the BW/F strategic plan.
What were some of the BRI’s accomplishments in 2011?
There have been several areas that we focused on in the last year. First, we’ve begun to think about the new research building, and what kinds of programs would be housed in the Brigham Building of the Future, which is scheduled to be completed in 2017. Although we haven’t yet arrived at any conclusions or made any recommendations to BWH President Betsy Nabel, MD, we are in the process of thinking about precisely what kinds of programs we want to have at that site, many of which will cross the boundaries of conventional scientific disciplines.
Our second major accomplishment in 2011 has been our effort to work on the research features of the BW/F strategic plan. We gave a lot of thought as to how the research environment will change over time and what the growth areas are that we should begin to emphasize. We also thought about how we will begin to bring in new BRI centers as their disciplines become more robust.
We have also considered how best to develop more durable funding for the BRI. Some of those efforts have been in the realm of philanthropy and others have been in establishing a research enhancement fund. Michael Reney, BWH chief financial officer, has put this latter issue on the agenda for 2012. We’ve opened up that discussion as a way to encourage further research success and growth, with willingness from the hospital to provide additional support to investigators who have some success in achieving National Institutes of Health (NIH) support.
What are the BRI’s goals for 2012 and beyond?
The plans for the future goals fall into three categories.
The first is organizational. We want to firm up the plan for space allocation for the Brigham Building of the Future, as well as determine the research focus in that building. Other building project goals include continued planning and pricing on the new Zebrafish Animal Facility currently under construction in the basement of 221 Longwood Ave, and scheduled to open this year. This is the first such facility ever constructed at BWH and will allow our investigators better access to utilizing this research model. We have also begun construction on the 221 Longwood Ave. MRI Facility. This space is adjacent to the new Zebrafish Animal Facility and is scheduled for completion this year as well.
The second organizational plan is to define a mechanism for establishing core facilities used by multiple investigators, reviewing performance and maintaining their fiscal solvency. The third organizational element is to develop methods for establishing BRI Centers and phasing out BRI Centers that have run their course.
Under the second broad category are goals that focus on the financial underpinnings of the BRI. We want to continue to develop a more rigorous approach to consistent, reliable BRI funding, and finally implement the research enhancement fund and incentive program to provide additional support to investigators who have achieved NIH support.
The third broad category of goals for 2012 and going forward are strategic and innovative goals. We have achieved one of these goals already by developing a research strategic plan for BWH. Now we wish to implement some of the elements of that plan. We want to explore and develop novel research and innovation strategies that will take advantage of our great talent and our ties to the broader pharmacology, biotechnology and device communities. We also wish to take advantage of many of the successful individuals who work in these industries. They are a part of our community and many have been generous donors to date.
And lastly, we want to establish a Center for Systems Biomedicine and Systems Pharmacology. I am in the process of establishing a Division of Network Medicine in the Department of Medicine that will focus on systems approaches to understanding human disease. But ultimately we need to have a similar kind of effort broadly across the institution, which the BRI is aptly suited to lead.
Do you think there are challenges to achieving these goals?
Yes, there are several challenges, including the financial challenges that all of us face. We need to determine how best to support people who have lost funding but have great promise; and how best to catalyze the careers of new, young investigators with great promise. Those are challenges and opportunities that not only our institution but every institution will continue to grapple with going forward.
We have had a program in place called the BRI Fund to Sustain Research Excellence to help gap-fund investigators who have lost grants but had good scores in their efforts to secure funding. That program has been pretty successful if you look at the return on our investment. I am concerned, however, that the number of individuals seeking such funding might soon be increasing, and we currently don’t have the resources to expand to meet that growing need. How we will deal with that challenge is uncertain at this point.
What about challenges with finding laboratory space for researchers?
Well, we are landlocked, and research space is somewhat limited. When the Brigham Building of the Future comes online several years from now, much of the space we lease from other institutions will be eliminated and the space consolidated in the new building. The net increase in new space is, as a result, only about 20 percent of the total building space, so we will remain somewhat constrained.
The BW/F Board of Trustees and Partners Health Care approved our current negotiations toward long-term space for lease at Emmanuel College, which will also give us an opportunity to expand. The development opportunity afforded by that land lease will not be realized in the near term (within the next five years). This is, therefore, creating a space crunch that we are going to have to address institutionally.
Now, you can say that if grants are lost, then there is less need for space. Well, grants aren’t being lost yet. BWH is the second largest NIH free-standing hospital to receive NIH support for the past 25+ years. In fact, the Department of Medicine, which comprises two-thirds of the overall research support the institution receives, had growth this past year of about 18 percent in overall support, which is quite astonishing. Certainly that kind of growth may not continue. It does mean, however, that the work for which our investigators are receiving funds needs to continue and be conducted somewhere. Therefore, we must find a location in which that research can proceed.
From left, researchers Mehdi Nikkhah, PhD, Ali Khademhosseini, MASc, PhD, and Nasim Annabi, PhD.