FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Dozens of faculty, staff and students from the University of Arkansas and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences gathered recently on the Fayetteville campus to discuss potential collaborative research opportunities.
The event, held Monday, March 17, drew about 65 people to the Janelle Y. Hembree Alumni House. About half of the attendees traveled from the health sciences campus in Little Rock to attend. Posters displaying health-related research studies were set up throughout the room, and tables were assembled to match researchers to particular health issues, such as obesity and cancer.
“We are looking for more ways for both of our faculties to collaborate on research projects,” said Jim Rankin, vice provost for research and economic development at the University of Arkansas. “It is a chance for discovery. When they talk to each other, they might find out if someone else has a similar interest and hopefully they can put together a joint grant proposal.”
Some specific areas that could be cultivated for partnerships include biomedical engineering, physical therapy, kinesiology, research commercialization and health administration, Rankin said.
Lawrence Cornett, executive associate dean for research in the College of Medicine and vice chancellor for research at UAMS, said, “It takes a multidisciplinary effort to address some of the big health care issues that are facing our country. I’ve always said that if UAMS and UA-Fayetteville were on a single campus, we would probably be ranked among the top 40 research universities in the country. Unfortunately, we are 190 miles apart, so this is an effort to bridge that distance and get together some of the researchers on my campus who could benefit from collaborating with the faculty here.”
Rankin and Cornett agreed that collaborating with UAMS would benefit faculty at the University of Arkansas who submit grant proposals to the National Institutes of Health, the federal medical research agency that has an annual budget of about $31 billion.
“From the perspective of a researcher here, it makes sense to collaborate with people at UAMS,” Cornett said.
Shengfan Zhang, an assistant professor of industrial engineering at the University of Arkansas, said she talked to different UAMS faculty members about the potential for working together. Zhang’s expertise is in mathematical modeling of randomly determined systems, with an emphasis on statistical and decision analysis as applied to health care.
“I collaborate often with physicians and radiologists, and my main research area is breast cancer treatment and prediction models,” Zhang said. “I try to find the best personalized screening and treatment plans for the patient, and industrial engineering tools can be helpful in solving those kinds of problems. But it’s not easy to find a physician who understands modeling perspectives.”
Amie T. Franco, an assistant professor in the UAMS department of physiology and biophysics and a member of the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, said she wanted to attend the event because she uses a multidisciplinary approach in her research. It was her first trip to Fayetteville.
“My undergraduate work was sports medicine/athletic training, but I did nutritional research followed by cancer biology,” Franco said. “I’ve always approached topics from a multifaceted direction. That’s why I wanted to come, so that I could talk to people outside of the medical school who might see things a little differently.”
Matthew Ganio, an assistant professor of exercise science at the University of Arkansas, said he appreciated the commitment by UAMS.
“It was great to see UAMS taking the time to come up and meet with the faculty here,” Ganio said. “It was one of the few networking events where you had specific ‘networking specialists’ making purposeful connections between individuals.”
Larry J. Suva, director of the Center for Orthopaedic Research and professor of orthopaedic surgery at UAMS, said the event was “quite successful” because it was pre-arranged and organized, making it easier for faculty with similar research interests to communicate with each other.
“Then you come to the meeting already knowing two or three people and they introduce you to two or three other people,” Suva said. “We can make these partnerships happen if the institutions find a way to help facilitate them.”
Both the University of Arkansas and UAMS plan to continue to these events in 2014-15, and added features could include more focused groups and short introductions to specific research programs.