Nearly two years ago, with funding from UK HealthCare and the vice president for research, the College of Medicine launched the Alliance Research Initiative. It has a mission, Vice Dean for Research Rebecca Dutch, PhD, explained, “to help spur on transdisciplinary research by pairing clinical and basic scientists together to answer new questions in new ways.”

The project began with three groups and now includes 21 teams focusing on the diseases and health conditions that most challenge Kentucky and the nation. The Alliance Research Initiative investment is already paying off. “It’s been very effective,” said Dr. Dutch. “There’s seed money to get things started, and it’s been exciting to watch that progress.”

Mentorship for Early-career Faculty

Eighteen months ago, Matthew Bush, MD, PhD, MBA, professor of otolaryngology, joined colleagues to form Translations of Research Interventions in Practice, Populations, and Policy Leadership (TRIPPPLe) to gather scientists from across campus for collaboration in interventional studies. Since then, TRIPPPLe has welcomed eight colleges, 25 departments, and 65 members to its group.

TRIPPPLe offers its members monthly meetings and small focus groups for mentorship not only in grant writing, but in the broader challenges of early-career researchers. Bush described TRIPPPLe’s focus on their early-career faculty.

“You have to listen to what they need. What is it like to juggle teaching and research? What is it like to create a research team?”

With a holistic approach to professional development, TRIPPPLe has accomplished much to support early-career clinical research faculty. Despite the challenges of carrying through with clinical trials in the middle of a pandemic, over a dozen early-career clinician scientists on the team have National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding now or will be receiving it in a few months.

Yielding Results

An early-career researcher, Austin Stone, MD, PhD, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery, is one of the faculty members of Osteoarthritis Alliance of Kentucky (OAK). Stone credits OAK with his involvement in several pilot grants leading to NIH and other large research grants.

Dr. Stone’s focus on arthritis is shared by many researchers across campus, including faculty in the College of Medicine, the College of Health Sciences, and College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment. The interdisciplinary context opened doors for him in research and funding.

With his colleagues, Dr. Stone said, “We leveraged that opportunity for a common purpose that’s already yielded results.” Without the support of OAK, the seed grants offered by the Alliance, and collaboration of colleagues, he maintains, “I wouldn’t have had that opportunity.”

Physician-Scientist Collaboration

Since joining the department of physiology at UK, respiratory physiologist Chris Waters, PhD, has looked for ways to bring scientists from across disciplines together to work on lung disease. When Alliance Research Initiative funding first became available, Waters and his group formalized their collaboration as Kentucky Research Alliance for Lung Disease (K-RALD).

A unique accomplishment for K-RALD is the lung specimen biobank offering samples of tissues gathered for use in research. For instance, with patient permission, a discarded lung from a transplant can be collected to study pulmonary fibrosis.

“That was a way to get basic scientists in the room with physicians,” Dr. Waters said. “It was a unifying resource.”

The funding, Dr. Waters explained, “really helped us to develop and grow interactions with people working on lung disease in a broad context. K-RALD gave us the opportunity to bring people together.”

What’s Ahead

With the support of the College of Medicine, UK HealthCare, and the vice president for research, the Alliance Research Initiative is meeting its goals. Nearly two years in, with a great track record, Dr. Dutch said, “we’re just going to keep doing that. Leverage money for growth.”

In addition, she explained, the Alliance Research Initiative can continue to encourage the growth of all faculty, junior and senior, through collaboration. “We can challenge people to envision, ‘What else can I do?’”