Feb. 9-15, 2001
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Carey plans to bolster clinical research

Courtesy of Health System Marketing & Communications
The Medical School plans to address a shortage of clinical research-- studies that may have more immediate applications for patient care -- by developing a Clinical Investigator Research Program.

By Dan Heuchert

Hoping to mend what he called a "breakdown" in translating the University's basic medical research into clinical applications, School of Medicine dean Robert M. Carey used the occasion of his annual address to announce a new program to attract and train new clinical researchers.

The lack of clinical research at U.Va. is part of a nationwide trend, Carey explained afterward. "It's the pressure of managed care, calling on physicians to do more clinical work and less research," he said. The pressures of living year-to-year on grant funding are also a disincentive, he noted.

The shortage of M.D.'s doing clinical investigation -- research with direct implications for patient care -- has become so acute that a national meeting of such doctors dissolved due to lack of attendance, he noted.

The new Clinical Investigator Research Program -- which puts U.Va. among the forefront of schools seeking to address the problem -- has four prongs, Carey said.

The first to is recruit clinical researchers holding either a medical degree or a combination of an M.D. and a Ph.D. for laboratory and patient-oriented research. To that end, the plan calls for offering lab space, seed funding and a guarantee of 80 percent protected time for research purposes for three years, Carey said.

Ultimately, he hopes to recruit 10 such researchers per year for a five-year period, although currently there are only enough resources available for half of that total, he said.

The second element is training existing clinicians and basic scientists in patient-oriented research. Carey proposed a "multidisciplinary training program in clinical investigation," which would award a master's degree upon completion. A limited number of tenure-track faculty members would be chosen through a competitive process each year, with support from the administration and a research start-up package available upon completion of the program.

Carey also called for increased mentoring among faculty members and revised tenure guidelines for clinical investigators. Toward the latter end, publications co-authored with a senior mentor would count toward promotion to associate professor, Carey said.

He added that the new program should attract some so-called "K-awards" from the National Institutes of Health, designed to spur more clinical investigation nationwide. Under Carey's proposal, those grants -- which are less competitive than traditional grants -- would also be able to serve as the basis for promotion to associate professor.

Carey hopes to support the Clinical Investigator Research Program through private fund raising, he said, noting that the more disease-oriented nature of clinical research and its less-esoteric-sounding purposes may make it attractive to potential donors.


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