Dean’s Message: The Joy of Discovery
All medical schools are driven by the tripartite mission: clinical care, education of the next generation of physicians, and medical science.
However, for most medical schools, research has become a business. Medical schools use indirect costs from federal research grants to build buildings and expand infrastructure. In a way, many medical schools have become addicted to these indirect costs, so they become risk adverse in research.
Research has become a big business for many medical schools. While it certainly is important to be fiscally responsible in medical research, we lose the ability to innovate when we see science as a business.
Large teams of smart people with enormously expensive equipment investigating highly complex areas have indeed produced remarkable results—the human genome project is a wonderful example. However, I would suggest that most of the major advances in medical science have come from a single moment of great insight by a single investigator, often with just a fraction of the funding that these big teams have.
The advances in my field of oncology have been made by individuals with smaller laboratory teams. Dr. Brian Druker at Oregon Health Science University with just a small amount of funding demonstrated the utility of the first kinase inhibitor in treating leukemia, which gave rise to a whole new class of drugs.
Dr. Carl June at Penn had to rely on small foundation grants to initially develop CAR T-cell therapy of relapsed leukemia and lymphoma. His research resulted in the first FDA-approved personalized cell therapy for cancer.
Our goal here at UT Health San Antonio is to promote innovation. We have a proud history of innovation here, where individual investigators made paradigm-altering discoveries, which we detail in a following story. If we do not support cutting-edge research, we will only make incremental advances in the diseases that are so common yet so difficult to treat, such as dementia, cancer and diabetes. We promote a culture of innovation here by supporting high-risk research and by rewarding innovative discoveries.
A young scientist once told me that the “hairs on the back of my neck stood up,” when she saw for the first time the chromosomal damage the lack of a DNA repair enzyme caused. When you first see the result of an experiment that makes a breakthrough, you experience a unique joy not found anywhere else. We think this joy of discovery is the foundation for truly innovative research everywhere. Our goal is to support and communicate that joy to the best of our ability.
I think we distinguish ourselves in training our investigators in the science of medicine. We want to pay as much attention to training our investigators in the joy of discovery.
Robert Hromas, M.D., FACP
Dean, Long School of Medicine