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Columbia Missourian

Benefits of bond touted at MU

December 31, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST

The MU School of Medicine typically receives $100 million less in research grants than more prominent public medical schools, largely because it does not have the necessary laboratory space.

But a state bond issue proposed Monday could lead to a massive revamping of the medical research program, including the addition of a 411,000-square-foot Health Sciences Research Center, said Associate Dean for Research Bill Folk.

“We’ve over the past 15 years fallen far behind many other universities in our capacity to support biomedical research,” Folk said. “We can’t train physicians to perform the quality of medicine required in this day and age without faculty that are very current in that medicine and medical research. We have to provide space so we can compete.”

MU Chancellor Richard Wallace introduced the bond proposal Monday. If approved, the bond issue would provide $190.4 million to programs throughout the UM system. The Health Sciences Research Center would receive $75 million.

“This is a commitment by the state to try to restore balance and recruit upwards of 100 faculty to the School of Medicine,” Folk said. “That will greatly strengthen the School of Medicine in all that we do. We hope very much that the state will get behind this.”

MU lags behind schools like the University of Iowa and the University of North Carolina in medical research, Folk said. These universities typically have about 150 faculty members who receive $130 million to $150 million in research grants each year, he said, compared to 50 faculty members and $30 million at MU.

The new Health Sciences Research Center would cost $175 million. If the state provides the $75 million from bonds, the school would seek to raise the rest of the money from private donors, MU Health Care spokesman Maurice Manring said.

The School of Medicine will have a total of about 100,000 square feet of laboratory space when the Life Sciences Center and other renovations are complete in 2004, Manring said. The proposed Health Sciences Research Center would add an additional 250,000 square feet for research, he said.

“We haven’t constructed new lab space since the ’40s,” he said. “It leaves us quite behind the curve for grants. We don’t have the space to do the kind of work we might be proposing to do.”

The center would focus on research in cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular health, aging and child health, Manring said. In the future, the school would seek to add centers for research on immunology and infectious diseases and neurosciences.

“We’re trying to focus on areas where we already have strengths and that are of national significance and affect Missourians specifically,” Manring said.

Mike Chippendale, who becomes senior associate director of MU’s Life Sciences Center on Jan. 1, said that although the Life Sciences Center will provide the School of Medicine with research space, it will not be enough to meet the school’s growing need. Chippendale noted that even if the bond issue were approved, construction of the Health Sciences Research Center would take years to complete.

“The bottom line of all this is that there’s a shortfall of top-quality research lab space on campus,” Chippendale said. “If you want to bring in top faculty, you’ll have to have top facilities to bring them here and keep them here.”

The National Institutes of Health awards most medical research grants, Folk said, and NIH funding has doubled over the past five years. But because of the School of Medicine’s limitations, Folk said MU has been unable to compete for those grants.

“We’re losing ground,” Folk said.

MU’s College of Engineering also stands to gain if the bond issue is approved by the General Assembly. Nearly $21 million would go toward renovating the Engineering East building on Francis Quadrangle. Students need up-to-date resources, said Sam Kiger, chairman of the civil and environmental engineering department.

“We could do better with modern facilities,” Kiger said. “I think we do a good job, but students deserve modern facilities with modern classrooms and laboratories.”

Manring said he hopes the bond proposal, which will benefit all four UM campuses, will gain legislative support when people realize its benefits.

“We think it sells itself,” Manring said. “I guess we’ll find out if that’s true.”