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Pathology Office of Research Affairs Makes an Impact

September 25, 2023

In just one year, the Department of Pathology’s Office of Research Affairs has helped to develop 42 grant proposals, ranging from drafting written content and creating tailored templates to providing technical editing services and ensuring alignment of projects with funding agency priorities. In addition, the team has provided guidance and assistance to Principal Investigators for 11 IRB protocols, fulfilled 49 requests for graphics support, and five for bioinformatics support. In fact, in just the first two months of fiscal year 2023-23, the office provided support for 12 grant proposals.

And it will only go up from here, said Gina Della Porta, DHSc, MHS, Director of the Office of Research Affairs.

“Based on conversations with faculty about their plans, I think this increased volume will continue and, hopefully, the funding will follow,” she said. “There are some truly innovative and exciting studies being proposed.”

The office recently celebrated its one-year anniversary with a drop-in session, and will continue those sessions, with upcoming ones scheduled for September 27 and October 25 from 1:00-3:00 PM in BML 136. Research Affairs staff will be available to review ideas, discuss new projects, initiate new proposals, assist with graphics help, or ask IRB questions.

David Stern, PhD, Professor of Pathology and Vice Chair for Basic and Translational Sciences, who oversees the office, said a number of issues contributed to the office's creation. These include the growth of the department’s research portfolio – both the number of investigators and the scope of research – the desire to facilitate research and grant administration to enable investigators to focus on investigation, and the goal of facilitating research by clinical faculty.

Others who contribute to the office’s success include Hannah Wang, Academic Support Associate, who provides support for graphic design, IRB and IACUC submissions, as well as Other Support and Progress Reports; Lorena P. Fonte, Academic Support Coordinator, who works in the areas of Other Support and Progress Reports; and Gianfilippo Coppola, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pathology, who provides bioinformatics needs.

Dr. Stern said the office has succeeded in facilitating processes including presentations, publications, and grant applications for Pathology investigators. This is already paying off through external funding for departmental research and by helping individual faculty expand their research footprints. The office is also supporting development of multi-PI grant applications including training grants and has been invaluable in reducing administrative burdens for faculty, he said. The office also managed the Pathology Pilot Awards that will hopefully lead to new collaborative grants.

In her role as director, Gina said she is focused on identifying funding opportunities, writing and editing grant proposals, performing various activities to advance departmental research priorities, and connecting researchers to each other and key resources. She also works closely with Uma Raman from the YSM Pre-Award Team to coordinate proposal planning and submissions.

“I enjoy working closely with faculty members on their grant proposals and having the unique opportunity to learn in detail about their ongoing research and future goals,” she said. “There have been some great wins for our faculty members over the past year, although success is defined differently depending on the individual, their career stage, and their research experience.”

“For some faculty members, we celebrate the achievement of obtaining their first funded grant, such as (Associate Professor) Angelique Levi’s mobile COVID-19 testing project that was funded through the NIH RADx program. For others, we celebrate their first time approaching a new funding agency, such as (Associate Professor) Sam Katz’s awarded Department of Defense project.”

And for some junior faculty and trainees, the achievement is writing and submitting their first federal grant proposal, such as (Assistant Professor) Declan McGuone’s recent submission.

“Part of why I love working in a research development role is that there is always something to celebrate,” Gina said.

She described the faculty’s response as “overwhelmingly positive” and said that even during times of year when they expect to see a lull in proposal activity, new projects continue to appear, research in the department continues to build momentum, and enthusiasm grows.

“I’ve worked with several individuals in the past year who were submitting grant proposals for the first time in their careers, in part because our office was available to help guide them through the process,” she said.

Gina stays abreast of grant and research opportunities through weekly detailed search updates she receives as well as various internal and external email lists. Meanwhile, she said, her goals are to build more connections among faculty and facilitate new multi-investigator projects that build on the numerous and diverse strengths in Pathology.

Submitted by Terence P. Corcoran on September 25, 2023