MUSC sets new research record with 15% jump over 2019 see more
The Medical University of South Carolina has broken its own record as the state’s leader in garnering extramural funding for biomedical research. MUSC set a new high-water mark in FY2021, bringing in more than $328 million. The previous MUSC record for annual biomedical research funding was more than $284 million, set in FY2019.
“Being the state’s leader in biomedical research funding year after year is a significant accomplishment, and we applaud the passion and expertise of our dedicated scientists and their teams,” said David J. Cole, M.D., FACS, MUSC president. “Even so, reaching another record-breaking number is not an end in itself. The true impact of MUSC research is reflected in how we translate discoveries into new modalities of care and life-changing therapeutics. Research is a dynamic force that fuels how we fulfill our mission to lead health innovation for the lives we touch,” he added.
Lori McMahon Ph.D., vice president for Research, called the accomplishment outstanding, especially during a period when being awarded research grant funding has become more intensely competitive than ever before. No other publicly assisted academic institution in South Carolina consistently garners near $250 million in research funding year after year.
MUSC research focuses on a wide variety of areas including cancer, community health, drug discovery, health disparities, inflammation and fibrosis, neuroscience, oral health, stroke and addiction.
Long-standing partnership between Clemson University and MUSC paying off see more
South Carolina is strengthening its position as a hub for high-impact biomedical research with a new multi-million-dollar project that undergirds the long-standing partnership between Clemson University and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and loops in crucial support from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Researchers will study temporomandibular joint (TMJ) function, how the TMJ functions in different craniofacial developmental disorders that seem to put the joint at risk for degeneration and how the joint responds to surgical correction of these disorders, researchers said.
The TMJ makes it possible to move the lower jaw to eat and talk. Understanding the stresses on the TMJ before temporomandibular joint disease (TMD) occurs will unlock the mechanisms that put certain individuals at risk for TMD.
The focus of the research aligns with the recommendations made by an ad hoc committee on temporomandibular disorders that was formed under the auspices of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Health and Medicine Division.
Four of the researchers involved in the new project are connected to the Clemson-MUSC Bioengineering Program. As part of the program, Clemson bioengineering faculty and students are based at MUSC’s Charleston campus where they collaborate closely with MUSC researchers and clinicians.
The new project, funded by a $3.18-million U01 grant from NIDCR, has two principal investigators. Hai Yao, serves as the Ernest R. Norville Endowed Chair and professor of bioengineering at Clemson, professor of oral health sciences at MUSC, the associate department chair for the Clemson-MUSC Bioengineering Program and a member of the national temporomandibular disorder ad hoc committee. Janice Lee is the clinical director of the NIDCR and chief of the Craniofacial Anomalies and Regeneration Section within the NIH intramural research program.
Yao said the project is possible only because of the synergy and complementary strengths of Clemson, MUSC and NIDCR.
“Clemson and MUSC work together so seamlessly it’s as if we are one university, and we both collaborate closely with NIDCR,” he said. “This project is the latest example of how these strategic partnerships are making South Carolina a hub of biomedical research that is recognized globally. Through these partnerships, we are well positioned to address urgent healthcare needs identified by the NIDCR and the National Academy of Medicine.”
Lee said the researchers are uniquely positioned for success.
“The U01 is an extremely competitive grant that requires intra- and extra- mural collaboration utilizing the world-renown resources at the NIH Clinical Center,” Lee said. “It is extra special as this is a first for NIDCR intramural as well. Temporomandibular joint disorders are debilitating conditions, and I am thrilled to be working with Hai Yao and his team to truly move the research forward. His team brings outstanding bioengineering technology to examine craniofacial musculoskeletal function to the Clinical Center; our discoveries will be translated and, ideally, will initiate first-in-human therapies for TMD at the NIH.”
Lee continued: “NIDCR is committed to working with world-class partners such as Clemson and MUSC to advance translational research into temporomandibular disorders. This project will help improve understanding of these disorders, thereby improving outcomes for patients.”
This is particularly important to Lee as she is the oral and maxillofacial surgeon who will be providing the surgical treatments and is acutely aware of the impact that surgery can have on TMD, she said.
Özlem Yilmaz, chair of the Department of Oral Health Sciences at MUSC, said the new project presents an important venue to help patients debilitated with TMJ disorders and underpins South Carolina’s leading position in temporomandibular disorders research.
“New measurement tools and computational models will be tested on patients at the NIH Dental Clinic,” Yilmaz said. “These novel technologies, stemming from more than a decade of teamwork bringing together bioengineers, oral surgeons, and oral biologists at MUSC and Clemson, will push the boundary of the current temporomandibular disorders research.”
Sarandeep Huja, dean of the College of Dental Medicine at MUSC, said the new project further solidifies MUSC’s partnership with Clemson and NIDCR.
“This partnership will help us innovate the future of oral health and wellness,” Huja said. “We will not only be advancing knowledge of temporomandibular disorders but also expanding knowledge for the next generation of oral health providers and researchers. As a practicing clinician and orthodontist, I frequently encounter patients with temporomandibular disorders, in the very type of patients that will be recruited in this study. It is critical we find evidence based treatments for these patients.”
The vice presidents of research at Clemson and MUSC are crucial to the institutions’ partnership, Yao said. Tanju Karanfil is vice president of research at Clemson, and Lori L. McMahon is vice president for research at MUSC.
“We look forward to solidifying the strong foundation that Clemson and MUSC have built,” Karanfil and McMahon said in a joint statement. “These large, high-impact projects are advancing knowledge and creating a new generation of talent, while strengthening the state’s national and international reputation for biomedical research and education.”
Researchers are calling their project “Assessment of Temporomandibular Joint Morphology, Mechanics, and Mechanobiology in Class II and III Target and Surgical Phenotypes.”
Part of what makes the project unique is the collaboration that maximizes the expertise of the investigators.
“Dr. Lee and her craniofacial team at NIDCR will recruit the large number of patients that will be required for the research, characterize the patients, and support their travel and treatment costs,” Yao said.
Clemson and MUSC will perform analysis of temporomandibular joint biomechanics and mechanobiology and put that information into context to better understand patients’ health status and the potential for future problems
Martine LaBerge, chair of Department of Bioengineering at Clemson, said the U01 grant that funds the new project is the first of its kind at Clemson.
“This grant is a testament to the strength of the biomedical research enterprise that Clemson and MUSC are building in partnership with federal collaborators, especially the National Institutes of Health,” she said. “Dr. Yao’s leadership has been crucial to the partnership’s success, and it remains in good hands with him at the helm.”
The project is the latest major NIH grant led by Yao. He is also principal investigator on South Carolina Translational Research Improving Musculoskeletal Health (SC TRIMH), a Center for Biomedical Research Excellence that was founded with an $11-million NIH grant in 2018. Researchers associated with the center have accounted for $8 million in NIDCR awards over the past year.
Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, said the success underscores the high quality of research that has come out of interdisciplinary partnerships such as the Clemson-MUSC Bioengineering Program.
“Working together in collaboration with federal partners is elevating South Carolina’s position as a place for top-tier biomedical research and predoctoral and postdoctoral education,” he said. “Dr. Yao and his team have built a high-impact program and are continuing to climb. I offer them my whole-hearted congratulations.”
New DNA-based approach may be wave of the future see more
If your doctor knew your risk for colon cancer or heart disease years before the disease developed, he or she could help you take steps to prevent it.
And by collecting DNA samples from thousands of South Carolinians, the Medical University of South Carolina is embarking on a project which hopes to do just that.
In the initiative, which stakeholders call the first of its kind in the state, MUSC is partnering with population genomics company Helix to study DNA to drive a concept known as precision medicine. It allows providers and patients to develop health care plans with a more preventive approach.
The power in precision medicine cannot be overstated, said Dr. Lori McMahon, vice president and associate provost for research at MUSC.
“Genes are what make us who we are,” she told Integrated Media, publisher of Greenville Business Magazine, Columbia Business Monthly and Charleston Business Magazine.
“What we learn here … will influence care for individuals across the country and across the globe.”
The earlier genes associated with a disease are found, the better the chances of successful treatment, said Dr. Dan Judge, professor of medicine and cardiology at MUSC and director of cardiovascular genetics.
Theoretically, this concept might have helped “Black Panther” star and Anderson, S.C., native Chadwick Boseman, he said.
Boseman died last year of colon cancer at the age of 43, seven years before traditional colonoscopy screening typically begins, he said.
Had he learned through DNA testing that he had a propensity to develop the disease, that screening could have begun much earlier, perhaps in time to keep the cancer from progressing, he said.
And a woman with a genetic predisposition to breast cancer might begin mammograms at an earlier age or get more sensitive MRIs instead, Judge said.
“We hope we’ll be saving lives with this project,” he said. “That’s really the bottom line.”
The project will focus on certain forms of cancer and cardiovascular disease initially, but hopes to expand to other diseases in time, McMahon said.
Called “In Our DNA SC,” the project hopes to enlist 100,000 South Carolina adults – 25,000 a year for four years, Judge said.
The initiative will start with MUSC patients who already have an electronic health record and an upcoming appointment, he said. They will get a message through MyChart to let them know they’re eligible. Later, it will expand across South Carolina.
“It won’t be something that private physicians can order directly,” he said. “This program requires people to sign up through a review board process so that it’s gone through protocol, and safety and confidentiality issues are all addressed.”
Similar programs have identified as many as one in 75 participants who were at risk for a serious health issue, 90 percent of which would not have been discovered through traditional practice, said Dr. James Lu, CEO and co-founder of California-based Helix, which describes itself as a population genomics company at the intersection of clinical care, research and genomics.
“By expanding access and making genomic data actionable for health care providers,” he said, “we will be able to work in tandem with MUSC … to identify risk earlier and prevent or mitigate serious diseases for its community and beyond.”
The popularity of companies like 23andme shows that people want to understand their genetics, McMahon said.
“People are even buying DNA kits for their dogs,” she said.
The genetic test is free to participants and involves only a saliva sample.
Genetic counseling will be provided to patients whose DNA reveals a risk for disease so there can be further discussion of what it means for the patient and for family members who might be at risk as well, he said.
In addition to the clinical component, the project has a research component that will develop a dataset to advance genomics research.
It also will examine how genetic changes influence the development and progression of disease, McMahon said, and help in the development of new and better therapeutics.
For instance, some people respond to certain blood pressure medications while others don’t, but it’s not understood why.
“This will help us try to understand the genetic basis for that,” she said, “and who may need alternate therapy.”
Caroline Brown, chief of external affairs at MUSC, said the hospital system and Helix took steps to ensure that patient data are secure. While the results are linked to the patient’s medical record so his provider has access to them, the information is de-identified for research purposes, she said.
The genetic results will be entered into the participants’ medical records, like a chest X-ray or MRI results are, where they are available to insurers, Judge said.
While there is a law called the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act that protects people from health insurance or employment discrimination on the basis of genetics, information in medical records can be used to deny life insurance or charge more for it, he said. Patients will be informed of that as part of the consent form for participation, he said.
Brown said that as a state academic medical center, MUSC is focused on building its genomics prowess to ensure it can be a leader in precision medicine in the future. It chose to partner with Helix because of its established data analytics platform which is capable of large-scale projects like this, she said.
“MUSC looked for a strategic partner to offer genetic testing that can be provided to the patient and his provider so they better know how their genetic makeup impacts their health,” she said.
MUSC has identified funding for the program, Brown said, but she declined to divulge the cost.
McMahon said that when patients and providers are armed with genetic information, they can make better decisions about care going forward and push health care to a new level.
“This is the way of the future,” she said.
And Judge said he expects it will likely be routine within 20 years.