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$60 million grant from Lilly Endowment boosts physician research at IU; expands program developed at IUSCC

  

INDIANAPOLIS -- (Dec. 15, 2009) -- When a patient has a disease that can’t be treated effectively, the physician can see clearly where research is needed.

When a laboratory experiment goes well, a scientist can envision an effective new treatment.

When the physician and the scientist are the same person, the combination can be a powerful source of discoveries for science, patient care and economic growth.

To help the Indiana University School of Medicine tap that powerful combination of science and medicine Lilly Endowment Inc. has given the school $60 million, university and Endowment officials announced Tuesday.

The funds will be used to implement the Indiana Physician Scientist Initiative. The Initiative will promote the development of important scientific discoveries in the laboratory, determine how those discoveries could improve human health, then help turn them into new products and treatments that benefit patients and produce new businesses and jobs – a process known as translational research.

The $60 million grant from the endowment is viewed as a strategic addition to the foundation’s previous investments in Indiana University research programs, including the Indiana Genomics Initiative (INGEN), which was funded by $155 million in grants from the Endowment in 2000 and 2003. In addition to expanding biomedical research at IU, the INGEN funds were a catalyst for the development of life sciences economic investments more broadly in Indiana. Those included the creation of BioCrossroads, which provides funding and support to life sciences businesses and markets the state’s life sciences economy.

IU President Michael A. McRobbie said this is the latest in a series of Lilly Endowment grants that have enabled the university to move into the very top ranks of institutions performing major research in the areas of life sciences and information technology.

"All told, the Lilly Endowment has given nearly $600 million to Indiana University over the past three decades, and I have no doubt that this latest grant will again have a transformative impact at IU and all across the state," McRobbie said. "The Lilly Endowment’s generosity is truly extraordinary in its scope, scale, and vision. It has transformed education across Indiana and beyond."

"The creative enthusiasm that bright and open minds bring to classrooms, laboratories, clinical programs and communities is essential to the university’s pursuit of excellence," said Sara B. Cobb, vice president for education at the Endowment. "These bold plans at the School of Medicine will advance further the Endowment’s efforts to build the intellectual capital in Indiana, which is so vital to the future prosperity of this state. It is our expectation that this grant will have a lasting impact on Indiana’s reputation and on the health and well-being of people here and throughout the world."

In addition to INGEN, Endowment funds have supported a broad range of IU research initiatives in Bloomington and Indianapolis, including the $53 million Indiana Metabolomics and Cytomics Initiative (METACyt), $45 million for information technology through Pervasive Technology initiatives, and the Excellence in Indiana Initiative, which provided $10 million to recruit neuroscience researchers.

The Endowment’s investments in the Indiana Genomics Initiative alone have leveraged an additional $682 million in research grant awards to IU, supporting a broad range of research resources and resulting in more than 60 international patents and the creation of at least four startup life sciences companies.

"We are focusing on physician-scientists with this initiative because we know the strength of this combination of skills and training and the need for more of these scientists in today’s research environment," said D. Craig Brater, M.D., dean of the IU School of Medicine. "This award will allow us to recruit a cluster of intellectual talent that will both mesh with and enhance our current strengths and will pay dividends for decades to come."

Physician scientists are medical doctors who have gone on to add expertise in a scientific research field – in some cases obtaining a Ph.D. degree in the process – in order to conduct laboratory research while continuing to spend some time treating patients. They and their colleagues with Ph.D. degrees comprise the research team at the IU School of Medicine.

The primary activities of the Indiana Physician Scientist Initiative will be:

 

  • To recruit 20 top physician scientists to the IU School of Medicine with an investment of $37.5 million. To make the most of this initiative, recruitment will be focused on areas of strength within the school including cancer, neurosciences and diabetes/vascular disease. The school will match these dollars with its own resources.
  • To train the next generation of physician-researchers by strengthening the school’s MD/PhD education program – the Medical Scientist Training Program. Already recognized by the National Institutes of Health as one of the nation’s best, the program will receive a $10 million endowment to ensure its continued success.
  • To invest $6 million in the Indiana Biobank, which will house the biological samples that provide genetic and other information necessary to conduct modern biomedical research. This biological data will be made available to researchers via state-of-the-art software, database and communication systems. The facility will be created to meet the needs of Indiana’s physician-scientists for at least the next 20 years. Another $2 million will be used to support specialists who will focus their time on the specific challenges of managing Biobank data.
  • To invest $2 million to expand the school’s international programs, building on its clinical and research programs in Kenya, with initiatives in other nations including Mexico, Honduras and China. An expanded international effort will add valuable diversity to the tissues in the Biobank.
  • To invest $2 million in ITRAC, a program that works with scientists to map out in detail the steps necessary to take a scientific discovery from the laboratory to testing in patients. The program, developed at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, would be expanded to become a resource for physician scientists in any area of research.

David Wilkes, M.D., executive associate dean for research affairs at the school of medicine, will direct the Indiana Physician Science Initiative.

The school’s Medical Scientist Training Program, which will receive the $10 million endowment, was previously expanded with support from INGEN. In 2008 the IU program became one of the few M.D./Ph.D. programs in the country to receive support from the NIH. The program now provides "full-ride" scholarships to about 50 students enrolled in doctoral programs at both IU and Purdue University seeking to become physician scientists and engineers who will pursue careers in biomedical research.

For details on bench-to-bedside research underway at Indiana University, see this overview of physician scientists at the School of Medicine.

The Lilly Endowment is a long-time supporter of IU research. View a list of Lilly Endowment awards from 2000-2009.