Exploring the science of life

IUPUI researchers and teachers are a key part of the quest to make the life sciences industry the foundation of Indiana's public health and economic future. A new multi-campus Life Sciences Initiative, featuring a large number of IUPUI schools, centers and programs, was launched recently to achieve Indiana's goals.

IUPUI researchers and teachers are a key part of the quest to make the life sciences industry the foundation of Indiana's public health and economic future. A new multi-campus Life Sciences Initiative, featuring a large number of IUPUI schools, centers and programs, was launched recently to achieve Indiana's goals.

Rapid advances are already being made because the state has harnessed the power of academia (IU, Purdue, IUPUI and more) with the private sector (Eli Lilly and Company, Roche Diagnostics, Cook Group and others), the non-profit sector (Lilly Endowment Inc.) the resources of the state and city of Indianapolis. Craig Brater, dean of the IU School of Medicine on the IUPUI campus, will oversee the project as IU's vice president with responsibility for the life sciences. The veteran administrator, part of the medical school faculty since 1986 and dean since 2000, is an experienced researcher and clinical pharmacologist who believes the unified approach "is the best road" to success.

"To accomplish something on the scale of what we've envisioned, we need the strengths of all of us," he says. "Philanthropists rarely have a taste for building facilities; they prefer to build on human talents. Governments have the resources to create the working spaces we need for our work. The private sector has research capabilities to offer through partnerships, and often will be the vehicle to put our work into action. And our university partners have the capability to attract topnotch minds, foster the research collaborations, and manage the creative process. We all have our interlocking roles."

Jan Froehlich, IUPUI's interim vice chancellor for research, believes the state's commitment to the life sciences offers campusbased researchers "a golden opportunity" to expand collaborations with major private entities like Lilly, Cook and Clarian Health Partners, which includes University Hospital and Riley Hospital for Children, both on the IUPUI campus.

"These well-established and thriving collaborations create a firm basis for continued growth of the life sciences enterprises on the IUPUI campus," says Froehlich, adding that the effort "will position Indiana to become a world-class center for the life sciences industry." These types of partnerships will create many new jobs and stimulate economic activity, both Brater and Froehlich believe, and also will improve public health care throughout the state-delivered by doctors, nurses, dentists and other health professionals, many trained on the IUPUI campus.

IUPUI ready for future

The campus is well positioned to advance the life sciences. Seven major focal points have been identified-bioimaging, cancer, diabetes, genes and proteins, health innovations, medical informatics and the neurosciences-and they weren't chosen at random, Brater says.

"We knew going in that we wanted to build on our strengths," he says. "Several of these areas have been emphasized at the School of Medicine and our other schools at IUPUI for the past 15 years, maybe more. Good work already has been done; we just wanted to focus even more on those areas."

"IUPUI is at the core of life sciences research, technology transfer and education in the state," adds Froehlich. "The strength of our campus is its entrepreneurial faculty-our research centers, institutes and the core programs all are breaking new ground in all areas of the life sciences."

Just as importantly, the two leaders believe the focus on life sciences has ignited a fire and passion among campus researchers that will drive them to surpass prior renowned achievements.

"You see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices," says Froehlich, an experienced researcher who also serves as a scientific co-director of the IUPUIbased Indiana Alcohol Research Center. "IUPUI has recruited top people from some of the most prestigious institutions in the world, and they're coming because they recognize what is happening here."

IUPUI has been able to recruit people from Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Duke, North Carolina and others who are well aware of the burgeoning reputation offered by the IU system and the IUPUI campus; "they want to be a part of that," Brater notes.

"A lot of medical schools, including some of the most renowned in the country, are silo oriented," he adds. "In those places, researchers only talk to others in their areas; it's very difficult to collaborate outside those boundaries. But on the IUPUI campus and throughout IU, we have something very, very different-here, we constantly reach out to others in different disciplines."

New ideas, perspectives

The "new way of working" has opened up entirely new approaches to ongoing projects, and created other possibilities, the dean says.

"We seek new ideas and new perspectives, different ways to understand and solve the problems we all face," Brater says. "When bright people from engineering, science, physical education, dentistry, nursing or any of our other partners start talking with each other, you feel a new energy growing."

NASA astronaut David Wolf (view magazine article), a 1982 graduate of the School of Medicine and a man who works daily in the life sciences, isn't surprised at the revolutionary impact the field has had on the campus he once called home.

"At NASA, the disciplines of health and sciences, like engineering, have meshed in a lot of vital ways," Wolf says. "The power of the combined knowledge of two or more fields gives us an energy and an enthusiasm that sparks new perspectives for all of us" who have made practical science their life's work.

The collaborative atmosphere at IUPUI, combined with new facilities and available expertise in such "key areas as imaging, microscopy, proteomics, genomics and animal models is allowing all scientists on the campus to advance life sciences research in ways not previously possible," Froehlich says.

"Expertise and assistance in areas such as informatics, biostatistics, ethics, technology transfer and community outreach facilitate research efforts by investigators in all scientific disciplines campus-wide," the vice chancellor adds.

"It's a time of unparalleled opportunity for IUPUI schools," Froehlich says, "and not surprisingly, the campus is flourishing." Statistics illustrate her point: from 2003 through 2005, IUPUI averaged more than $250 million in research and instruction awards per year; in the first six months of 2006, the number of awards to IUPUI investigators climbed by 6.5 percent and the award dollars grew by more than $5 million.

Campus immersed in life sciences

Those numbers make Froehlich and Brater smile, but what makes both of them-and other campus administrators-even happier is how well integrated the Life Sciences Initiative has become among IUPUI's schools and centers.

"More than 80 percent of the research we do here at IUPUI is lifescience related," Froehlich says. "Many of these projects have grown from ties to the School of Medicine, but a surprising number have emerged outside the traditional health-related schools-and that number is growing every year!

"Many projects were not begun as part of the Life Sciences Initiative, but are life-science related and complement the new projects being undertaken," she adds. "The potential impact of these projects is considerable: longer, healthier, happier and more productive lives."

Add in the entrepreneurial impact-companies launched by research-based ideas-and Indiana already is showing the potential state leaders had hoped would emerge.

The biggest step for the Life Sciences Initiative was a $105 million Lilly Endowment Inc. grant that launched INGEN (the Indiana Genomics Initiative) in 2000. Another $50 million Lilly gift in 2003 provided the resources to recruit talented new researchers, build state-of-the-art facilities, get dozens of new grant programs started and to launch a plethora of dreams, including the initiative itself.

"INGEN was a huge piece of the puzzle for us," says Brater. "The benefits of that gift continue to ripple throughout our campus, our schools and the whole region. It governs where all the other pieces we've been able to assemble will fit."

Impact on education

For Brater and Froehlich, the initiative is having another profound impact: health-related education.

"We offer more than 130 life sciences-related degrees in a dozen schools and more are on the way," Froehlich says. "Each year, more than 1,300 students graduate from IUPUI prepared for careers in the life sciences. IUPUI is becoming the place to go for life sciences education, training and job opportunities."

The work begins early-well before graduation-for IUPUI students. Students like those in the Cox Scholarship Program roll up their sleeves as undergraduates and plunge into research life. They get hands-on experience under the direction of world-renowned scientists working on the edge of tomorrow's discoveries. "Those opportunities have become a powerful lure for high-ability students," Froehlich says, noting the campus has additional programs to increase research opportunities for undergraduates.

The education and training aspect of the initiative is vital for Indiana to achieve its goals, according to the vice chancellor. "Programs like these at IUPUI ensure that the state has the trained workforce it needs to become a world-class center for the life sciences industry," Froehlich says.

"The life sciences present new educational opportunities, to be sure," adds Wolf. "And the partnerships between diverse fields and disciplines will prepare young people for entry into the multidisciplinary careers that already are emerging, and that will continue to grow in importance in the years to come."