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Medical Research Through Cross-Campus Collaboration

UNLV research administrators on creating an environment to connect faculty from different disciplines.

Research  |  Mar 21, 2018  |  By UNLV School of Medicine
signage that says "research"

(Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)

If the inaugural meeting of the Clinical Research Working Group is any indication, some of the brightest minds on campus are ready to begin leveraging their intellectual capital and energy to find solutions to complex health-related problems and currently incurable diseases.

The event brought faculty and residents from the clinical departments at the School of Medicine together with researchers from UNLV’s programs in Allied Health, Dental Medicine, Sciences, Engineering, and Liberal Arts. Also joining were representatives from the UNLV National Supercomputing Institute, Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, and University Medical Center.

The group’s goal: to increase transdisciplinary research across UNLV. Here, some of the key participants share why it was was an important event for the future of UNLV research programs.


 

Dr. Parvesh Kumar
UNLV School of Medicine vice dean of research

Kumar, who led the inaugural meeting, is the principal investigator of the Mountain West Clinical and Translational Research Infrastructure Network award, a five-year, $20 million grant funded by the National Institutes of Health, the largest grant at UNLV.

As the former chair of the department of radiation oncology at both the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, Dr. Kumar has initiated clinical trials on prostate cancer through the U.S. Department of Defense and on head and neck cancer through the National Cancer Institute. He’s also led or co-led several national cooperative group clinical trials in lung cancer, head and neck tumors, and prostate cancer.

What typically holds people back from conducting research?  

“They can’t find the time, they’re too busy, and very often there is a lack of mentorship or guidance. They want to do research but don’t know who to turn to. So we want to create a positive environment and venue for researchers to work together.”

Why put so much emphasis on cross-campus collaboration?  

“I know from my own experience that progress in research is incremental, and it takes time.  We’re hoping to capitalize on the diversity of research and researchers that currently exists around UNLV. Moreover, funding for research is very competitive, so an innovative approach such as transdisciplinary research is likely to maximize the chances that our UNLV researchers will get funding.”

Why is research so important in becoming a top tier university?  

“If you look at all the Top Tier universities and medical schools, they’re known for research.  Look at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Stanford University School of Medicine, Keck School of Medicine of USC — those are all top tier and they are known for making research discoveries. We have to ask ourselves, “How are we going to distinguish ourselves from other universities?”


Mary Croughan
UNLV vice president of research and economic development

Croughan’s own research includes work on infertility that has been supported by the National Institutes of Health. Prior to joining UNLV in 2017, she helped develop research policy at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and was executive director of the systemwide University of California office of the president research grants program.

Why promote cross-campus collaboration?

“Interdisciplinary research, wherein a team addresses and approaches complex questions from multiple perspectives and disciplines, provides more comprehensive answers to the difficult issues that we need to address as a society. By combining our approaches and methodologies, we arrive at more accurate and reliable conclusions.”

Biggest challenges in the process?

“A big challenge can be getting researchers to think creatively beyond their own standard disciplinary approaches, embracing the collective wisdom from multiple integrated disciplinary approaches.”

How does the addition of the School of Medicine help with cross-campus research?

“Significant strength already existed in health-related research at UNLV, but the addition of the Medical School further broadens our expertise and capability.”


Also presenting at the meeting was life sciences professor Brian Hedlund, who made the basic science presentation, focusing on the effects of drugs and diet. He also presented on the human gastrointestinal microbiome, specifically on clostridium difficile, which causes more than 600,000 infections, costing more than $12 billion annually.