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Parent: College of Medicine receives record NIH funding, responds to COVID-19 challenge

Dr. Leslie Parent, vice dean for research and graduate studies, sent this email on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, to faculty and staff at Penn State College of Medicine:

Dear Colleagues,

As we begin a new academic year during this season of uncertainty, I am happy to share some good news with you. Last year Penn State College of Medicine achieved a new record for total National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant funding. We received more than $70 million in support of our research to examine fundamental questions about the transition from health to illness, leading to discoveries that advance medical care in central Pennsylvania and beyond.

At the end of last year, the world began to wrestle with COVID-19, and by mid-March the pandemic spread to the East Coast and changed our lives. I am proud of how our research community met this challenge and continues to rally together to respond to the pandemic. When the Penn State Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences solicited proposals to address the pandemic, more than 40 College of Medicine faculty received funding for 17 projects – approximately a third of all projects funded.

Thanks to the hard work and long hours put in by our faculty and research staff, Penn State Health patients had access to convalescent plasma treatment and the option to participate in the Adaptive COVID-19 Treatment Trial through the NIH. Faculty, staff, fellows and students are working on vaccine strategies, testing new treatment options and investigating the effects of the pandemic on the most vulnerable members of our community.

Our response to COVID-19 is all the more impressive when we consider the additional research endeavors our faculty and staff advanced and achieved. In the past year, we investigated how physical activity could benefit those living with and recovering from cancer, evaluated the effects of electronic cigarette use, received funds to start a new study evaluating whether an already-approved drug can curb opioid cravings and developed personalized gene networks to explore how diseases uniquely affect individuals.

These accomplishments would not be possible without teamwork. All research team members play an important part in advancing our research mission – from designing experiments, performing data analyses, submitting grant proposals, managing finances and ensuring compliance, to maintaining our equipment, laboratories and clinical spaces.

I am grateful for all of your efforts as we have adjusted to the challenges the spring brought upon us and will continue to affect us moving forward. I applaud the adaptability of individuals who learned to work from their homes, principal investigators who planned work schedules to allow for social distancing in their labs and students and staff who accepted new screening procedures and safety protocols. All of us at the College of Medicine appreciate your continued compliance with the rules of our “new normal” so we can maintain a safe research and learning environment for ourselves and the patients we serve.

With best wishes and gratitude,

Leslie J. Parent, MD
Vice Dean for Research and Graduate Studies

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