December 22, 2009

A look back at 2009: Largest-Ever Research Grant and More

 The $198.4 million, 540,000-square-foot new hospital opened in January 2009.

The $198.4 million, 540,000-square-foot new hospital opened in January 2009.

Dec. 22, 2009 | The largest-ever research grant received by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences highlighted 2009, a year that also brought UAMS a new chancellor, a new hospital and growth through new programs.

A $19.9 million Clinical and Translational Science Award announced in July will boost a new center focused on translating basic science discoveries into speedier treatments and cures for patients. The grant, hailed as among the most significant ever received by UAMS, solidified the standing of UAMS among the country’s elite academic health centers and ensured that work being done here quickly moves to the bedside to have a tangible impact on Arkansas patients.

“We are looking forward to the challenge of streamlining our existing infrastructure, energizing our research programs and integrating UAMS research into clinical use,” said Curtis Lowery, M.D., chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UAMS, was the lead investigator on the CTSA proposal and is the director of the UAMS Center for Clinical and Translational Research. “Having an institution earn this award is something all Arkansans can take pride in.”

The center will occupy 24,000 square feet in the old UAMS hospital building that became available when the $198.4 million, 540,000-square-foot new hospital opened in January 2009. The 10-level hospital replaced most of the patient care services in the original 52-year-old UAMS Medical Center building.

The new facility incorporated the latest medical technology, larger all-private patient rooms and private rooms for infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). An opening celebration included Gov. Mike Beebe and actor and Arkansas native Mary Steenburgen.

“This new addition to the campus will further bolster the international reputation that UAMS has earned for providing state-of-the-art care,” said Beebe at the opening. “Arkansans take great pride in the exceptional medical treatment available at UAMS and the economic benefits it provides for the State.”

The future brightened in 2009 for the UAMS Reynolds Institute on Aging with the June announcement of a $33.4 million gift from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation to build a four-story expansion. A portion of the foundation’s gift was to expand the Arkansas Aging Initiative, an institute program that oversees eight Centers on Aging across Arkansas

$19.5 million boost for research came in 2009 through a grant renewal to the internationally known multiple myeloma program at UAMS and its leader, Bart Barlogie, M.D., Ph.D. The grant marked the fourth renewal for the program that has attracted patients from all over the world to UAMS for groundbreaking treatments driven through new discoveries by Barlogie and other myeloma program scientists. That work has led to higher survival rates and a better understanding of this cancer of the blood’s plasma cells.

The renewal also came as the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy celebrated its 20th anniversary.

UAMS welcomed a new chancellor in 2009 as Dan Rahn, M.D., became the institutions fourth chancellor on Nov. 1. Rahn, an experienced health system administrator and nationally recognized researcher and clinician, was unanimously selected in March to lead the institution by the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees. He had been president of the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) and senior vice chancellor for health and medical programs for the University System of Georgia since 2001.

Rahn succeeded I. Dodd Wilson, M.D., who retired after serving nine years as chancellor, and before that, serving 14 years as dean of the UAMS College of Medicine. Wilson will remain at UAMS as chancellor emeritus.

Among the past year’s many achievements, highlighted in each UAMS mission:

Patient Care

  • $3.75 million gift from the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation announced in May will allow the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute to match the $36 million designated by the Arkansas Legislature for construction of the Institute’s new tower. The 300,000-square-foot, 12-story expansion is expected to open its first phase in summer 2010.
  • The children’s inpatient unit at the UAMS Psychiatric Research Institute began accepting patients in June, marking the first time in 30 years that UAMS has provided inpatient care to children. With the move of the Department of Pediatrics to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in 1980, UAMS had focused primarily on the treatment of patients 18 and older. However, the need for a facility to deal with the mental health issues of children has become increasingly apparent over the years. The opportunity to aid children dealing with a variety of illnesses, from post-traumatic stress to anxiety and mood disorders, came about with the opening of the psychiatric institute in 2008.
  • new 28-bed adult mental health unit opened in April to serve Northwest Arkansas as a result of a venture between six regional partners, including UAMS. Gov. Mike Beebe participated in a ceremony April 29 to open the acute care Behavioral Health Unit at Northwest Medical Center – Springdale. UAMS Psychiatric Research Institute – Northwest provides the medical director, psychiatrists and psychiatry resident physicians, for the program. It has also established an outpatient clinic to serve the pre- and post-admission needs of some patients, and the program will be used as a teaching site for UAMS psychiatry residency and fellowship programs.
  • The August opening of a new genetics clinic marked a new era in care for Arkansans with Down syndrome and a step toward personalized medicine. The UAMS clinic provides specialty care not previously available in Arkansas for patients with genetic syndromes. The clinic, along with the recently endowed chair in clinical genetics, is being supported in part with a gift from Lisenne Rockefeller in honor of her late husband Winthrop P. Rockefeller, the philanthropist and former lieutenant governor.
  • In January, Jeanne Y. Wei, M.D., Ph.D., became the new executive director of the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging and chairman of the Donald W. Reynolds Department of Geriatrics in the College of Medicine.

Education

  • Preparations for medical and pharmacy students at the new UAMS Northwest campus in Fayetteville received a boost in June with a $1 million grant from the Walmart Foundation. The funds from the Bentonville-based retailer were used to renovate the first floor of the former hospital building into conference space and classrooms as well as a clinical skills training center for the UAMS Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy. The first group of students to attend UAMS Northwest, six third-year medical students, began clinical rotations at the campus in July.
  • The UAMS College of Health Related Professions found that 38 years of patience can pay off in September when most of the college’s 17 programs moved into a new home. The college completed renovations to a 72,000-square-foot complex of buildings and open areas that had been part of the Arkansas State Hospital adjacent to the UAMS campus. The college was previously spread across locations in Little Rock and North Little Rock.
  • UAMS awarded certificates and degrees in May to 811 graduates of its five colleges and graduate school during its commencement ceremony. Diplomas were presented to 140 in the College of Medicine; 188 in the College of Nursing; 121 in the College of Pharmacy; 44 in the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health; and 71 in the Graduate School. The highest graduate total was 247 from the 17 academic programs that make up the College of Health Related Professions.

Research

  • Tobacco settlement funds have been used to leverage more than a quarter of a billion dollars for research funding to Arkansas biomedical researchers in the past eight years, according to a recent report by the Arkansas Biosciences Institute, of which UAMS is a member. Since 2002, funding from outside sources – including the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Agriculture – totaled more than $258 million, or $3.03 for every ABI dollar given to researchers.
  • The UAMS Center for Translational Neuroscience received a five-year, $10.3 million grant in August to continue its work that has already produced new medical treatments, yielded basic science discoveries and improved the campus’ research capabilities. The grant, through the Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) program at the NIH’s National Center for Research Resources, is intended to provide the infrastructure to develop nationally recognized centers of research excellence.
  • Use of technology to improve data gathering and sharing in clinical research put UAMS among the nation’s most innovative users of technology, according to the annual ranking by business technology magazine InformationWeek. UAMS was ranked No. 23 in the 2009 InformationWeek 500 list revealed Sept. 14 at an awards ceremony during the InformationWeek 500 Conference in Monarch Beach, Calif. The publication ranked UAMS for the second consecutive year.
  • The concept behind a unique program that saves Arkansas millions of dollars in Medicaid drug costs has spawned a new startup company through the UAMS BioVentures biomedical business incubator. RxResults, LLC, and UAMS have formed a strategic partnership that will expand the client base of Arkansas’ Evidence-Based Medicine program (EBRx), which is designed to cut prescription drug costs while ensuring patients receive the most-effective, high-quality medicines available.

For a complete list of archived UAMS news releases and feature stories from 2009, click here.