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New Vision for Cedars-Sinai Research Enterprise

Joan August writes down ideas during a brainstorming session

Joan August, vice president of Service Line Operations, writes down ideas during a brainstorming session at the Academic Affairs Research Retreat 2017.

The research enterprise at Cedars-Sinai has achieved unprecedented growth in scope, staffing and publications in prestigious journals over the past few years. Its future success depends on meeting new challenges in funding, space and organization.

Those were key takeaways from the recent Academic Affairs Research Retreat 2017, which brought together leaders of Cedars-Sinai's research departments, divisions and institutes for the first time in six years. Participants reflected on the institution's scientific achievements and debated the best course for the next five years.

In two addresses to the gathering, Shlomo Melmed, MD, executive vice president of Academic Affairs and dean of the medical faculty, recounted Cedars-Sinai's 115-year history and outlined a vision for growth. Noting Cedars-Sinai's dual roles as a hospital and scholarly research center, he said: "No one is like us. Our academic mission transcends all our missions. We are one integrated fabric."

While Cedars-Sinai's scientific enterprise dates at least to the 1940s, powered at that time by an influx of Jewish refugee investigators fleeing from Europe, it "just exploded" starting in 2010, Melmed said. New research departments, institutes and cores devoted to regenerative medicine, neurology, diabetes, imaging, health services and other disciplines were created.

Nicole Leonard

Nicole Leonard, JD, MBA, vice president of Research, outlined space management plans for the enterprise.

In five years, from 2010 to 2015, Cedars-Sinai rose to ninth from 16th among nonuniversity hospitals in total funding from the National Institutes of Health. In 2016, its investigators obtained over $60 million in new federal awards, accounted for $31 million in technology transfer revenue and published more than 1,300 papers in academic journals. Recent studies have appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Nature and Cell journals and other high-impact publications.

"We're having one of the best years ever in research," said Melmed, a professor of Medicine. But he cautioned the future will bring a serious funding crunch, driven by "a national consensus that we're spending too much on healthcare" and societal reluctance to invest in research and development.

To cope with the new economic climate, the scientific community at Cedars-Sinai must lower the costs of generating knowledge, cultivate new funding and be selective about where it aims to excel, said Melmed. To define the value of research to society, he added, "we need to turn discovery into health" by translating basic science into clinical practice. He cited the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute as a paradigm for integrating these realms.

In another address, Nicole Leonard, JD, MBA, vice president of Research, described how the meteoric growth of the scientific enterprise is outstripping available space. Noting that Cedars-Sinai is situated on a compact campus surrounded by high-priced real estate, she said, "Now is the time to implement a new space management system." Among the current and planned projects:

  • Advanced Health Sciences Pavilion: reworking the eighth and ninth floors to provide more space for offices, wet laboratories and Comparative Medicine
  • Steven Spielberg Building: converting the freezer room to wet laboratories, converting clinical laboratories to research laboratories and adding a sterile processing research pharmacy
  • Davis Research Building: upgrading the Comparative Medicine infrastructure and accommodating an advanced magnetic resonance imaging system
  • Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood: renting new research space

On the retreat's second day, leaders of Cedars-Sinai's new programs in precision health, health delivery science and bioinformatics and functional genomics shared their work. Attendees also broke into small groups to brainstorm about how to improve the research enterprise, especially in synergy with the health system. A major topic was how to leverage Cedars-Sinai's expanding network of regional affiliates to extend the system's academic vision and clinical trials outreach.

Leonard said her team was working to consolidate and analyze the new initiatives that were discussed at the gathering. Some benefits were immediately apparent from the retreat, which also included a scientific presentation on circadian rhythms by Steve Kay, PhD, director of Convergent Biosciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

"Many of the research leaders said they really appreciated the opportunity to come together in a social way and learn about one another's work," Leonard said.

Shlomo Melmed at Academic Affairs Research Retreat 2017

Shlomo Melmed, MD, executive vice president of Academic Affairs and dean of the medical faculty, speaks with retreat participants.