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For doctors, scientists, workshop series is an initiative in translation

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2004 - Summer


Catalin S. Buhimschi, M.D., is just starting out on his research career studying high-risk pregnancies in the obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences department. Cardiologist Albert J. Sinusas, M.D., an associate professor in the departments of medicine and diagnostic radiology, investigates diseases that typically occur at the other end of life. He looks for ways to image and model the beating heart, especially after an infarction, to improve diagnosis and treatment. Under normal circumstances, their paths might never cross, but they discovered they had much to talk about when they finally met.

The meeting of the two investigators was just one of the unlikely, and potentially productive, encounters among faculty who attended the Dean’s Workshop on May 7 in the Anlyan Center Auditorium. The meeting was the first in a series of events designed to bring together basic scientists, clinical researchers and clinicians from across the School of Medicine to explore ways to move basic science advances more swiftly to patient care. The workshops are part of a larger initiative launched last academic year by Interim Dean Dennis D. Spencer, M.D., HS ’77, who told the overflow audience, “This is an attempt to further focus our efforts on why we are here: patients and patients’ health.”

As part of that initiative, Spencer also announced a commitment by the School of Medicine of up to $1 million in funding for pilot projects that bring basic and clinical scientists from different departments together. The two-year grants will provide up to $150,000 with the aim of generating data that will attract additional outside funding. Said Spencer, “I visualize a research continuum where human investigators and basic researchers will focus together on a single problem.”

The translational research program comes partly in response to the Roadmap initiative announced by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) last September. NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., had identified major opportunities and gaps in biomedical research that no single institute at NIH could tackle alone, but that the agency as a whole could address to make the biggest impact. The Roadmap also established new funding for research across institutes.

The first Dean’s Workshop focused on Yale’s magnetic resonance imaging core research facility and some of its applications for structural and functional studies. Three faculty members from the Magnetic Resonance Research Center, James S. Duncan, Ph.D., R. Todd Constable, Ph.D., and Douglas L. Rothman, Ph.D., spoke about their efforts to develop new contrast mechanisms and algorithms to improve both imaging methods and understanding of the results. Much of that work results from helping basic and clinical investigators carry out their research. “We all work in a collaborative matrix,” Duncan said.

Three clinical researchers—Sinusas, neuroscientist Marcia K. Johnson, Ph.D., and diabetes investigator Gerald I. Shulman, M.D., Ph.D., gave overviews of their studies using imaging technologies. Sinusas said findings from his 15-year effort with Duncan to model and analyze the changing shape and structure of the beating heart may help predict heart wall damage and patient prognosis following an infarct.

After the workshop, Buhimschi, an instructor in obstetrics and gynecology, spoke with Sinusas about his efforts to model the changing uterus. “I was aware of Yale’s interest in new imaging techniques, but I wasn’t aware of Dr. Sinusas’ work,” he explained later. “I hope to identify ways to pursue our idea, maybe even together with him. Ultimately, I will apply for a grant.”