Dean's Update 2021-02

February 23, 2021

Aligning research with being a physician

Being a physician is something many of us have aspired to become from our earliest days of deciding what we can do to create a better society. As part of that calling, we’ve also encountered research in some way or another, be it bench-studies in the foundational sciences, clinical trial participation, survey science, health policy development, clinical quality improvement and assessment efforts, as well as other forms of scholarly activity.  

Pursuing research aligns well with becoming a physician. Participating in research provides a means to expand one’s academic pursuits and satisfy innate intellectual curiosities, the same characteristics that also drive us to become physicians. Moreover, successful research outcomes can also result in profound effects on the larger society overall and at a scope that a single physician may struggle to achieve.

In my experience, I was privileged to help lead the first studies of an experimental therapy which eventually led to FDA and EU approval of a drug to treat a particular type of muscular dystrophy. I have great satisfaction in knowing that this medication is being prescribed and is helping thousands of patients. It is something I’m grateful for every day.

Yet with these rewarding outcomes, we also must acknowledge that attempting to participate in research while undertaking the rigors of being a physician can be perceived as extremely difficult. This perception can increase when one compares the delayed gratification that exists when it comes to getting research results and the near immediate rewards and personal satisfaction that can be achieved as a physician seeing patients on a day-to-day basis.

This dichotomy is especially acute in our profession given our strong desire to emphasize disease prevention and health preservation. This important focus requires an incredible amount of time and dedication, and can lead to career paths away from the more specialized areas of medicine; areas which often provide greater opportunities to participate in research. This contributes to why the osteopathic profession may be less active in scholarly research overall, especially when considering typical metrics of success such as external grant support from organizations such as the National Institutes of Health.

However, this pursuit requires an incredible amount of time and can lead career paths away from the more specialized areas of medicine; areas which often provide greater opportunities to participate in research. Unfortunately, this results in the osteopathic profession being less active in research, especially when considering typical metrics of success including scholarly output and impact, as well as external grant support from organizations such as the National Institutes of Health.

Leading the way in research

Our college is a leader, if not THE leader among all osteopathic medical colleges (as well as many allopathic medical schools) when it comes to meeting the challenge of merging the benefits and principles of an osteopathic medical education with contemporary research capacities and participation.

While we stand out in regard to our NIH funding, we also have the DO profession’s oldest and largest DO-PhD training program, a program that benefits from being at a Big Ten University that is ranked in the top 100 of all research universities worldwide. This offers our students countless opportunities in their pursuit to become a physician-scientist.

Dr. John Goudreau, DO, PhD, and associate dean for research has an esteemed record of not only being a wonderful and caring neurologist, but also conducting research that has revealed the underlying mechanisms of a variety of neurological diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Below, he offers his take on efforts to promote research among our students and faculty, as well as our path going forward as a world-class medical school.

What research areas are a focus of the college?

While our faculty pursue a broad range of research, there are several areas of strength that we focus on including global health, nGoudreauJohn2019.jpgeurology and neuroscience, drug discovery, health services and preventative medicine, and osteopathic neuromuscular manipulative medicine.  

We also have several exciting emerging areas of research including applied immunology and advanced imaging research. Another wave of therapeutic advances is in immunotherapeutics, illustrated by the dramatic impact of immune checkpoint modulators in treating cancer. The establishment of an Applied Immunology Center for Education and Research within our college will combine MSU expertise with team-based approaches to tackle common health problems that are responsive to immunotherapeutic interventions, while training the next generation of translational researchers.  

Additionally, MSU has unmatched scientific facilities and human capital centered on research and development in molecular imaging and image-guided therapy.  A proposed MSU Center of Excellence in Imaging and Image-guided Therapies will help to bring together existing strengths in biomedical imaging and unite the missions of several colleges with the goals of lowering the costs and improving the quality of health care by advancing the tools of early detection, precision prognosis, guided therapy and advanced imaging.

How do these areas align with our strategic mission?

The mission of our office is to facilitate opportunities and infrastructure for training and conduct of biomedical research in our college. Our goals are well aligned with the college’s mission to provide world-class, osteopathic, student-centered graduate and medical education and research.  

Through the support of current and future areas of research, we are dedicated to promoting student awareness and engagement in the opportunities that exist here, and we will continue to support the development of our osteopathic physician-scientist leaders, a key program that helps us continue to be a leading osteopathic medical college and research center.

Why is having a DO-PhD program important?

The goal of dual-degree programs like the DO-PhD program is to train the next generation of physician-scientists. Physician-scientists are optimally poised to identify the most pressing health problems based on their medical training and then be able to conduct research on those problems using their scientific training. These individuals can then apply their research discoveries in the clinic to improve patient outcomes. This translational “bench-to-bedside” approach is a critical component of much of the research supported by the National Institutes of Health.

The DO-PhD program also seeks to provide academic physician-scientists, such as myself and our own Dean Amalfitano, to help lead future osteopathic medical education and research efforts across the country and the profession.

Where do we rank in research funding compared to other osteopathic medical schools?

Research investigators supported by the college have been awarded approximately $80 million in research funding between 2017-2019. Approximately $60 million of that total represents funding from the National Institutes of Health.

According to 2019 data compiled by the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research, our college is No. 1 in terms of NIH-research funding among osteopathic medical schools, a distinction MSU has held for many years.

How are we making scholarly activities and research more accessible to faculty and students?

We continue to support faculty research in the biomedical and clinical departments, including salary support, assistance with pre-award grant application preparation and grant writing. We also support start-up packages for new hires, project and multi-disciplinary training programs for grant applications, and cost sharing for both internal programs, as well as for the institutional support of scientific symposia.

To improve access for faculty who may have less experience with research, we have continued to collaborate with the Statewide Campus System to provide professional development training in research methodologies and one-on-one consultation for those planning on starting a new research project.

When it comes to student research, this is also a strategic priority. We have a number of programs to help students gain research experience including our SpartanDO Research Accelerator which provides a funding incentive for mentors/faculty to work with medical students on research elective projects. Some of our other electives and programs include:

  • Developing and offering a new pre-clerkship course in evidence-based health sciences delivered in the first semester of year one of the student curriculum.
  • Elective course in biomedical research structure and methods provides advanced training in biomedical research and a capstone research project.
  • Preclinical and clinical research electives.
  • Development of a Medical Student Flexibility Initiative, or MSFI, with MSU IRB that will reduce barriers for student participation in research within the Statewide Campus System.
  • Streamlined and increased transparency for screening, reviewing and approving survey-based research for students, faculty and staff.

How is the college advancing research efforts moving forward?

We will continue to reduce barriers for faculty and students to engage in research that will have a tangible impact on community wellness and continue to expand and strengthen research partnerships within health systems in the state. Some of our statewide partnerships include McLaren Health System, Karmanos Cancer Institute, Sparrow Health Systems, Ascension Health and Henry Ford Health Systems.

Other strategic efforts include:

  • Continuing robust support for fundamental biomedical research and developing strategies to connect investigators engaged in bench research with counterparts in clinical medicine.
  • Building upon existing strengths in immunology research through the Applied Immunology Center for Education and Research mentioned earlier, which will rapidly move research discoveries in immunotherapeutics into the clinical arena, and ultimately routine clinical practice.
  • Offering the recently created Dell COM Fellowship which seeks to attract and train a diverse and promising group of early career, post-doctoral investigators by financially supporting their training as they conduct studies related to current college research priorities and areas of emphasis. Amount of funding is up to $50,000 for a single year of support.

Andy Amalfitano                     John Goudreau
Dean                                        Associate dean for research