The University Record, December 10, 1997

Omenn details Med Center Initiatives

By Jane R. Elgass

Five new initiatives at the Medical Center were outlined for the Regents at their November meeting by Gilbert Omenn, executive vice president for medical affairs.

Omenn noted in his presentation that there were "several activities percolating on the academic side" when he arrived in September and that he decided to "package several initiatives that were ripe for decision to send a message about investment." He added that taken together, the projects "touch education, the underpinnings of our clinical operations and basic research and clinical applications."

The initiatives are:


A series of biomedical sciences scholars recruitment efforts. Omenn noted that the U-M stands in good stead in appointment of its faculty as Howard Hughes investigators, "and we want to build up on our own that quality of research leader." These efforts also will involve LS&A and the other health sciences units.


A center for gene therapy. This research center will be headed by Gary Nabel, the Henry Sewell Professor of Medicine and professor of internal medicine and of biological chemistry. The Center will draw on the strengths of a variety of units and build on the excellent base already established in core laboratories.


Further development of work in organogenesis, which studies the development of organs and is crucial to understanding and preventing birth defects. Funding has been contributed by the provost and a foundation is interested in the program, which will permit the appointment of a full-time senior director.


A focus on health services research that will look at such things as outcomes of medical care and public health intervention, patient satisfaction, quality of life for patients while under care and for the rest of their lives, cost effectiveness and system performance, all of which are "essential to the efficient operation of the Health System and a rich area for research," Omenn said. This is an initiative of all the health sciences deans and is supported by the provost, and will be led by John Wheeler, chair of the Department of Health Management and Policy.

Omenn noted that these efforts "will complement the intense work" in looking at these things being done by the clinical fields with an eye to clinical redesign for better and more cost-effective care.


Creating coherence in the basic sciences. There currently are six basic sciences departments in the Medical School-anatomy and cell biology, biological chemistry, microbiology and immunology, pharmacology, immunogenetics, and physiology. "When you look at these research-wise," Omenn said, "the area is easily described as a convergence to cellular or molecular biology."

He noted that several top universities have combined these activities under a single umbrella, making it easier for them to recruit top students. "The faculty have the challenge of recruiting the students," Omenn noted, adding that it is a good market test that gives students a choice and will put the U-M in a league with other schools that have taken this step.

This effort will be led by David Dawson, associate chair of the Department of Physiology. Omenn expressed hope that those working on the project will be "bold and imaginative" in reprogramming existing resources and training grants and tapping new funding provided by his office.