Posts

RB2

UK’s new research facility will target Kentucky’s health concerns

Lisa Cassis

Lisa Cassis, PhD, UK vice president for research

Written by Lisa Cassis, PhD, UK vice president for research.

If you’ve driven along Virginia Avenue in Lexington, toward the main UK campus, you’ve probably seen the steel skeleton of the new research building under construction. This is Research Building 2, or RB2, a precious resource and a vehicle for UK to reduce the health disparities that most impact Kentucky.

This building will house researchers that focus on the following health disparities: cancer, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and stroke, and substance abuse. These conditions have a major adverse impact on the health of Kentuckians, contributing to death rates from each disease that rank within the top 11 states in the nation.

RB2 will enable multidisciplinary research that approaches these disparities from numerous fields and perspectives healthcare researchers (both basic and clinical), public health, behavioral sciences, agriculture outreach and extension, economics, and engineering working in close proximity and collaboratively to develop solutions to these complex problems.

This $265-million building (funded half from the state of Kentucky, half from university resources, including private gifts) is scheduled to open in summer of 2018.

Thoughtful design and collaboration

The design of this modern research facility embodies a lifestyle that reduces health disparities, including a healthy food choice restaurant, a room to house bicycles for travel to and from the facility, and prominent staircases to encourage physical activity.

Within the laboratories, the design and focus comes with a specific scientific underpinning: Much of discovery today, whether at the cellular or community level, happens at the intersection of disciplines. By placing investigators together in “neighborhoods,” this facility is designed to foster discovery and collaboration so that what happens in the course of basic research can be translated to answers and solutions at the community level.

When researchers who are working on the same problem say, cancer but from different angles (economics, biomedicine, public health), work next to each other in a single building, it facilitates communication and promotes new avenues for problem solving. Through this design, the project will improve the lives of Kentuckians by providing modern space that lends itself to multidisciplinary research that is needed to address entrenched health problems.

Tackling Kentucky’s worst problems

While each of these major diseases influence citizens across the Commonwealth, they are of immense concern to our citizens residing in rural Appalachia, a region with some of the most pronounced rates of chronic diseases in the country.

A recent report from the University of Washington showed rates of death from cancer in the United States dropped by 20 percent between 1980 and 2014. However, these gains were not distributed equally across the country. Clusters of high mortality were found in many states, including Kentucky.

Four main factors are thought to drive these disparities: socioeconomic status, access to healthcare, quality of available healthcare and prevalence of risk factors, such as smoking, obesity and lack of physical activity. The Appalachian region of Kentucky experiences a perfect storm of these factors driving disparities.

A primary focus of research within the new building will be determining factors that drive more disease risk and burden in Appalachia, and developing preventive and therapeutic approaches that are optimized to have greater benefit to those living in this region.

Harnessing our strengths

RB2, the Biological Biomedical Research Building and the Lee T. Todd Jr. Building will be linked in complex, to further foster collaborative and multidisciplinary research. The connecting conduit building, serving as the spine of the complex, has been named the Appalachian Translational Trail, as it will house the nucleus of translational researchers who bring together all disciplines.

The real power of research is realized in bringing different groups of experts together, and in order to tap into that power, we applied a multidisciplinary approach to the planning of this new building. We began by aligning our work with the goals of UK’s 2015-2020 Strategic Plan. These goals invest in UK’s existing strengths and areas of growth in selected focus areas that benefit and enrich the lives of the citizens of the Commonwealth; recruit and retain outstanding faculty, staff and students; improve the quality of the research infrastructure across campus; and strengthen engagement efforts and translation of research. The planning and implementation of RB2 touches on each of these goals.

The health disparities we are targeting are areas of current UK strength in research and healthcare. We have strong individual investigators across all colleges at UK, as well as existing collaborative research centers that can bring intensified focus in these areas. We’ve tapped these experts, based on thematic areas in each of these health disparities, to use data to evaluate our current resources and identify areas in which we could strategically invest to expand resources and hire new investigators, who will most likely be housed within RB2, to make the biggest impact for Kentucky.

By growing our research enterprise to focus on the most critical health needs of Kentucky, we can translate basic science findings to clinical practice and to the community to fight these devastating health disparities and improve the quality of life for Kentuckians. We thank Kentucky legislators for their support of RB2, and we will do everything in our power through this precious resource to make that difference.


Next steps:

basic research

Cuts to basic research funding could threaten the health of Kentucky

Written by Jay Blanton, executive director of UK Public Relations & Marketing.

Colorectal cancer incidence rates have declined by 25 percent in Kentucky in less than 10 years. Death rates have dropped by 30 percent.

Why?

Among other reasons, screenings have increased significantly, led by University of Kentucky and UK HealthCare researchers along with changes in state policy.

It’s one example of the impact that basic scientific research combined with outreach into communities can have in Kentucky. Basic scientific research is at the cornerstone of each innovation and, led by UK, it’s making a difference across Kentucky.

“Everything that we do came from a research question that was originally asked by someone either in the U.S. or internationally, so it impacts every part of our day-to-day lives,” said Lisa Cassis, UK’s vice president for research, who is nationally known and funded for her research in metabolic and obesity-associated diseases.

“Screening for colorectal cancer, for example, is a practice that most of us probably assume is routinely applied according to clinical guidelines. However, research makes a difference by asking the question: Is the screening routinely applied? And if not, then why, and how can we increase screening for this condition?” Cassis said.

Researchers at universities across the country have expressed concern over a recent proposal for next year to cut funding for biomedical research by nearly 20 percent.

U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, recognizes the value of research and recently supported an increase in the budget of the National Institutes of Health by $2 billion for the remainder of this fiscal year.

McConnell and Kentucky Congressmen Andy Barr and Hal Rogers also were vocal supporters last year of the 21st Century Cures Act, which authorized federal funding increases for research on Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and opioid abuse  all issues of concern for Kentuckians. And McConnell and Barr reaffirmed their support for UK’s research efforts recently during a news conference to announce $11.2 million in federal funding to launch a new Center for Cancer and Metabolism at UK.

Nevertheless, the threat of cuts looms large and would, if enacted, hamper UK’s ability to continue to make progress in addressing the state’s health disparities, as well as threaten thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars annually in economic impact for Kentucky.

Specifically, Cassis and UK President Eli Capilouto recently cited several economic and health statistics regarding the impact in Kentucky of federal funding for basic scientific research:

  • With the proposed reduction of National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for next year, an estimated 219 jobs at UK alone would be cut, with an effective loss of 339 jobs across the Commonwealth.
  • UK’s research enterprise has an annual economic impact of more than $580 million and more than 8,000 jobs.
  • Increasing research activity by just 15 percent means an additional nearly $90 million in economic impact and nearly 220 jobs.
  • Institutions in Kentucky earn $163.6 million ($92.4 million earned by UK) of NIH’s $26.4 billion in funding. At an estimated 13 jobs per $1 million in NIH awards, this support generates 2,886 intra/interstate jobs and has an estimated $431.6 million economic impact in Fiscal Year 2016.
  • The proposed cuts would significantly hamper UK’s ability to conduct research – and provide advanced medical healthcare – related to challenges where Kentucky is among the nation’s leaders in incidence rates for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and death from opioid abuse. The CDC estimates hundreds of lives are lost in Kentucky’s Fifth Congressional District every year due to these largely preventable illnesses.
  • The National Institute of Food and Agriculture provides funding to 112 land-grant institutions in the U.S. to support: agriculture, food safety, agribusiness, bioenergy, 4-H, youth development and family consumer sciences.
  • One in six patents in agriculture science nationally grew from land-grant university research.
  • Six of the 10 major vaccines currently used to protect against equine infectious diseases were developed by faculty in UK’s Department of Veterinary Sciences.

Capilouto said UK’s goal with basic scientific research is to translate it as quickly as possible into treatments and solutions for communities across the Commonwealth.

“What we want to do is get the very best of our research quickly to the bedside,” Capilouto said. “We want to be able to take what we’ve learned and translate it quickly to a community to make a difference. We systematically and successfully do that at the University of Kentucky because of our capacity, our depth.”

“We can’t cut back on the pace of progress now,” Capilouto said. “Doing so threatens Kentucky’s future.”

Watch the video below to learn more about the impact basic research has on the health and wellness of Kentucky.


Next steps: