August 03, 2022

Looking at Heersink’s four new research focus areas, Part 1: D-TECH

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Close up of genomic sampling machine in laboratory.Four years ago, the Heersink School of Medicine became part of an elite group: one of only eight Academic Medical Centers that attained more than $100 million in net research funding growth over five years from the National Institutes of Health. This remarkable accomplishment was guided by a strategic plan created in 2014, the AMC21, which included specific research focus areas which drove our plans for the past eight years.

New research focus areas

As our school expands and we continue to grow in discovery, funding, recruitment, and scientific influence, Heersink School of Medicine leadership recently took a fresh look at the current and future landscape for research. They asked, “how should we position ourselves to grow over the next five to seven years?”

Consequently, a process was launched to outline new focus areas to ensure continued growth. Requesting proposals from faculty, crowdsourcing for faculty engagement on the proposals, as well as guidance from the Research Strategic Planning Steering Committee and the AMC21 Research Steering Committee, helped inform the future direction of research at the Heersink School of Medicine.

Four new areas were identified:

  • Disruptive Technology Empowering Precision Health (D-TECH)

  • Health Equity

  • I-4ward (Infection, Inflammation, Immunity, and Immuno-Therapy)

  • Brain Health and Disease Across the Lifespan

“I am excited that our new research focus areas provide a strong foundation for the future of scientific impact and growth here at UAB,” said Tika Benveniste, Ph.D., senior vice dean for Research in the UAB Heersink School of Medicine. “Thank you to our faculty for their input, as well as our dedicated committees for their effort and service.”

Over the next few weeks, Heersink communications will feature each new focus area, asking key leadership how each one will transform our future.

Focus area: Disruptive Technology Empowering Precision Health

The first focus area in our series looks at Disruptive Technology Empowering Precision Health, also known as D-TECH.

Innovative progress in digital technology, computational health, and data science is growing rapidly. Add in advances in genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic, and metabolomic analyses and the result is a health care delivery system reshaped beyond our imagination.

The disruptive impact of these advances has been utilized in Precision Oncology and will soon revolutionize Precision Health.

Led by George Netto, M.D., Robert and Ruth Anderson Endowed Chair in the Department of Pathology, D-TECH takes a data-driven approach to disease prevention, including diagnostics, genetics, and biology to improve health outcomes.

“I am humbled to be entrusted to this role by my institutional peers and leaders,” said Netto. “I eagerly look forward to working closely with the working group team to further delineate the scope and framework of such critical research focus theme for our UAB enterprise.”

The ultimate goal of D-TECH is to deliver the most effective and efficient value-based health care.

Other leading national and international health care institutions have employed the strategic initiative of investing in disruptive technologies.

UAB's recent investments in establishing the Hugh Kaul Precision Medicine Institute, the Informatics Institute, and the Center for Genomic Medicine were critical first installments.

However, the next Research Focus Strategic Plan must encompass a sustained investment in the four cornerstones of Precision Health: people, data services, cyber infrastructure, and security and networking.

This focus area will help us position our enterprise as a relevant player in all aspects of Precision Medicine and health—ultimately shaping a more personalized path to health care for everyone.