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Gift Celebrated, Panel Examines Future Biomedical Research

The Future of Biomedical Research at Georgetown Panel

Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia moderates a panel discussion at the "Ensemble Science: The Future of Biomedical Research at Georgetown" event, which celebrated the largest monetary gift to the school.

May 18, 2011 – An event celebrating the largest gift to Georgetown – $87 million for medical research from the estate of the late Harry and Virginia Toulmin – took place May 16.

Scientists and physicians from Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) participated in a panel discussion at the event, “Ensemble Science: The Future of Biomedical Research at Georgetown,” which was moderated by President John J. DeGioia.

Ensemble science, a concept that encourages interdisciplinary research, will be funded by the gift, which also established the Warwick Evans and Mary Mason Washington Evans Medical Research Endowment.

Same Language

Robert Clarke, GUMC’s dean for research and a world-renowned breast cancer researcher, said during the panel discussion that he has spent his entire career trying to identify patterns of why drugs work or sometimes stop working – and getting bio-statisticians, mathematicians and biomedical researchers to “understand the same language.”

“Major advancements won’t be made by lone scientists but by teams – that is the very nature of ensemble science,” Clarke said. “Education is where the future of all science lies.”

In 2010, the National Cancer Institute awarded Clarke a $7.7 million grant to apply a systems biology approach to study endocrine resistance in breast cancer.

The scientist studies how hormones, growth factors, cells and molecules affect breast cancer, and how breast cancers become resistant to treatments. Clarke developed a series of hormone-resistant breast cancer models now widely used in breast cancer research.

New Research

The combination of the Toulmin gift with a $38.2 million Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) to Georgetown spurred a number of new research entities.

The CTSA award, for example, funded the Georgetown-Howard University Center for Clinical and Translational Science.

Dr. Joseph Verbalis, a professor of medicine and director of the Georgetown-Howard collaboration, also served as a panelist this past Monday.

“CTSA personifies ensemble science,” he said. “It may seem like strange bedfellows, but we can do more as a team – what physician scientists like me take from the lab into the clinic and back – once you understand the disease process you translate it into a treatment for humans.”

Critical Philanthropy

Verbalis holds two NIH grants focusing on mechanistic studies of kidney and bone complications of hyponatremia, a metabolic condition in which body fluids outside the cells lack enough sodium. Symptoms of hypnoatremia range from confusion to a possible coma.

Dr. Edward Healton, another panelist and chair of the Department of Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine, said gifts such as the one the Toulmins gave Georgetown will save lives for generations to come.

“Philanthropy is just critical to closing that gap,” Healton said. “This is a critical time. It has never been more important.” 

Also on the panel were Lucile L. Adams-Campbell, professor of oncology and associate director of Minority Health & Health Disparities Research at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, and David Hartley, director of the Division of Integrated Biodefense and associate professor of microbiology and immunology at GUMC.

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