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Research: Defining the Future of Health and Health Care

Research: Defining the Future of Health and Health Care

Better Aging through Research

Dr. James Goodwin
Dr. James Goodwin

Dr. James Goodwin was a self-described “young, hot-shot investigator” when he stumbled into his life’s passion.

It began as a purely scientific interest in why some people stay so healthy in old age. Goodwin was a rheumatologist and junior investigator at the University of New Mexico whose ground-breaking work on control of immune function earned him a large National Institute on Aging grant for a longitudinal study of people over 70 who had never suffered a serious illness and were not on prescription medications.

But as the study stretched on nearly two decades, Goodwin’s interest turned into something deeper. “I realized that I was really looking forward to meeting with these people for checkups, just listening to and talking with them,” he says. “They say wisdom grows with age, and I really found it fun.”

Goodwin joined UTMB in 1992 ready to build something that would benefit this “increasingly fascinating” group of people. What he’s built—in collaboration with investigators from every department at UTMB—is the Sealy Center on Aging, one of the top aging research programs in the country.

Keeping older people self-sufficient longer is the center’s overarching goal, particularly as the first Baby Boomers enter retirement expecting more services and more studies to help them maintain their independence.

To meet this growing need, the center’s 60-plus investigators have three primary areas of focus. One is helping to address rising health care costs by conducting research designed to determine which among current practices, such as screenings, work best. Another is unlocking the mystery of the “Hispanic Paradox,” the phenomenon that has the nation’s fastest growing minority group living longer than their health indicators would suggest.

Finally, through UTMB’s Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, a multidisciplinary team of scientists is systematically studying rehabilitation after the illnesses or injuries that often debilitate older people, including the devastating downward spiral caused by age-related muscle deterioration.

The program is also closely linked with UTMB’s nationally ranked Acute Care for Elders unit in John Sealy Hospital. Goodwin’s goal is to have every patient admitted to the ACE unit also admitted into a research study “so we’ll have ongoing discovery there.” In fact, despite his busy research schedule, Goodwin maintains an active clinical practice in the ACE unit—not because he needs to, but because he wants to. “I feel incredibly blessed and privileged to spend a lot of my time with older people,” he says.

What distinguishes academic health centers from other health facilities are the ways in which they combine education, research and patient care to improve health. Academic health centers like UTMB are the training ground for tomorrow’s scientists and care providers—incubators for the bench and translational research that leads to scientific breakthroughs and better patient care.

  • Recent rankings place seven School of Medicine departments among the top 20, and four in the top 10, for National Institutes of Health funding.
  • UTMB’s School of Health Professions ranks sixth nationwide among peer institutions.
  • UTMB researchers attracted more than $158 million in federal grants in fiscal year 2009, on par with research funding from the previous year, despite the effects of Hurricane Ike. This includes grants totaling more than $12 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, as well as a $2 million Department of Education grant awarded to the School of Nursing for construction of an interprofessional simulation center designed to serve medical, nursing and health professions students.
  • UTMB received a $21.5 million Clinical Translational Sciences Award (CTSA) from the National Institutes of Health, affirming the pioneering and collaborative research being conducted by university faculty. One reviewer described UTMB’s research community as one of “dissolved boundaries,” which is considered essential to turning discoveries in the laboratory into advances in patient care.
  • UTMB received a $10.9 million grant to establish the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Clinical Proteomics Center in Biodefense, the only such center in the nation.
  • Dedication ceremonies for the Galveston National Laboratory—one of only two such labs in the United States wholly committed to the safe study of infectious threats to human health, and the only national lab in Texas—took place two short months after Hurricane Ike. The facility is on track to be fully commissioned and operational in 2010. In addition, UTMB’s National Biodefense Training Center was awarded significant federal funding to help meet the growing regional, national and international demand for well-trained biocontainment scientists and engineers.

Looking Forward

Continued investment in our world-class research programs remains a priority, with an ambitious goal of increasing federal grants by at least 25 percent within five years. Renovation and expansion of additional laboratory space is under way, and we have hired an architect to design a proposed new 140,000-square-foot research building. We are actively recruiting faculty. And, our sights remain focused on addressing age-related, chronic conditions such as heart failure, neurodegenerative diseases, cancer and metabolic disorders. These are areas in which we have considerable strength and where our collaborative efforts can address a tremendous societal need.