A season of gratitude: Thank you to our research community

“Gratitude is an emotion that grounds us and is a great way to balance out the negative mindset that uncertainty engenders.” – Guy Winch, Ph.D.

Dear Colleagues-Friends,

For more than a year and a half, we’ve been living in a constant state of uncertainty, change and stress, testing our capacity to cope and putting a strain on our sense of resilience. Many are exhausted – and understandably so. With that in mind, it seems more important than ever to use this national month of gratitude to reflect on all the good we’ve seen and accomplished across our missions of educating the next generation of physicians and scientists, conducting innovative biomedical and clinical research, and delivering high-quality patient care.

Today, I wanted to share my sincere appreciation for all that our School of Medicine scientific community has done to enhance our reputation as a highly collaborative school at the forefront of both basic science and clinical research. Here are just a few examples of the many reasons we have to be thankful:

Breaking research funding records

As announced earlier this fall, fiscal year 2021 was a record-breaking year for sponsored research funding for the university. Combined awards for sponsored programs, including grants, contracts and other funding types directed toward research activity, totaled $362,906,366 – a jump of more than 8% over last year’s $335 million. This growth includes a very impressive 51% increase in industry funding, including $32.5 million for clinical trials.

Our School of Medicine continues to lead the way, accounting for half of the research funding brought to the university ($183.41 million). These remarkable totals demonstrate the exceptional commitment, professionalism and adaptability of our researchers throughout the pandemic. When COVID-19 restrictions necessitated the minimization or even closure of many labs last year, many of our researchers pivoted to writing and submitting grants – and we continue to reap the rewards of those efforts.

Over the last 11 months, our School of Medicine researchers have received a number of impressive grants from prestigious organizations, such as the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Cancer Institute. I encourage you to learn more about many of these projects on the VCU News research page.

Publishing in prestigious, high-impact journals

Publications in prestigious journals are not only a professional badge of honor but also how researchers can make an impact on their field and in the care of the patients we see every day. This year, research and research collaborations that originated in the labs on our MCV Campus have been widely published in journals such as Nature and Nature-associated publications, The New England Journal of Medicine and The Journal of the American Medical Association.

A few examples include:

  • In The New England Journal of Medicine, a team led by Dr. Arun Sanyal provided the first clear picture of the true rates of outcomes for those with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
  • In Nature Neuroscience, Dr. Danielle Dick and her collaborators identified 579 genetic locations linked to anti-social behavior, alcohol use, opioid addiction and more.
  • In The Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Steven Woolf and colleagues from VCU’s Center on Society and Health showed excess deaths rose 22.9% nationally from March 1, 2020, to Jan. 2, 2021, fueled by COVID-19 and deaths from other causes

Serving as national leaders

Our research faculty continue to strengthen our reputation as a leader in scientific discovery, innovation and education by serving in leadership roles within prominent national, regional and local societies and as editors of well-respected scientific journals; representing our school within preeminent honorific societies, such as the National Academy of Medicine and the American Society for Clinical Investigation; and garnering prestigious awards. Just a few specific examples from this year include:

  • Dr. Jasmohan Bajaj becoming co-editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Gastroenterology
  • Dr. Gonzalo Bearman serving as editor-in-chief of a new antimicrobial stewardship and health care epidemiology journal
  • Dr. Sarah Spiegel being named one of 30 scientists in the first-ever class of an international fellows program established by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Training and mentoring the next generation of scientists

The heart of our mission is to provide preeminent education to improve the quality of health care for humanity. This is what Dr. Bill Dewey has been doing for nearly five decades. This summer, Dr. Dewey’s T32 grant, “Training in the pharmacology of abused drugs,” was renewed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse for the 10th time, ensuring the continuous funding of the program through 2026 and making it both NIDA’s and VCU’s longest funded institutional training grant. Since the grant was initially awarded in 1976, it has provided over 600 student or trainee years of funding, which equates to more than $24 million, and has jumpstarted the careers of hundreds of young addiction researchers.

I also would like to acknowledge the tremendous resilience of our graduate students and post-docs who, because of COVID-19 precautions, had to pause and often reevaluate their research. While definitely disruptive, this unanticipated time away from campus and their labs was also productive, according to two such trainees, who gained focused time for writing and hypothesis generation and “a new perspective on succeeding as a graduate student.”

We can also be grateful for how this global pandemic has underscored the great impact of research and science for humanity. The public’s appreciation of our research and how our science can improve lives could not be more evident than over the last two years. I am immensely proud, now and always, of the research that you do. Research means hope, and science is – and will always be – a beacon for human progress and better health.

These are just a few of the many things we have to be thankful for, and we hope you will take the opportunity to share your personal gratitude – whether it’s for the people on your team, a valuable resource or a small act of kindness – on the virtual gratitude wall created by our wellness team under the leadership of Dr. Aimee Grover and Dr. Lisa Ellis. (You must log-in with your vcuhealth.org credentials to view messages.)

Thank you for all that you do. We look forward to continuing to build on your good work and success.

With gratitude,

Pter F. Buckley, M.D.; Dean, VCU School of Medicine; Executive vice President for Medical Affairs, VCU Health System [View Image]

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