Funding increases as niche centers and revamped programs propel research at the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville

The University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville’s Office of Research Affairs received a record $24.9 million in extramural research funding in 2019-2020. Clinical trials account for a bulk of the research activity.
Alexander Parker, PhD, senior associate dean for research at the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville, says the college’s research community is primarily focused on how its investigations can ultimately improve health outcomes.
Cardiologist Dominick Angiolillo, MD, PhD, is among the researchers at the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville who have garnered international recognition for their work.

A record amount of research funding and the success of recently created niche centers highlight the research-related strides made over the past fiscal year at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville.

In 2019-2020, the college’s Office of Research Affairs received $24.9 million in extramural research funding, an 8% increase over the previous year and a record number for the college. Among the faculty members who received key awards, Faheem Guirgis, MD, is exploring underlying mechanisms of sepsis, a condition to which he has devoted a bulk of his research efforts; and Jennifer Fishe, MD, is evaluating novel approaches to managing pediatric asthma. Those two awards are funded by the National Institutes of Health, or NIH.

As funding amounts jumped, the college also saw a 74% increase in research publications by faculty members, going from 104 in fiscal year 2019 to 184 in fiscal year 2020. The majority of those publications, 66%, had a UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville investigator listed as either the first or senior author.

“These increases in funding and publications speak to the heightened level of research engagement among our faculty,” said Alexander Parker, PhD, senior associate dean for research at the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville. “It is important for the UF Health community, as well as our peer institutions and the public at large, to know about the amazing investigations and discoveries taking place on our campus. However, we want to stay laser-focused on our real mission to effect meaningful changes in health care that result in better outcomes for our patients and the entire community.”

Niche centers

During 2019-2020, activities ramped up at the Center for Data Solutions, which assists investigators and staff with research study design, data collection methods and analytics. Fishe serves as its medical director. Over the past year, the center recruited new talent to support machine learning and health informatics and successfully implemented a new financial sustainability model that will allow the center to continually evolve and meet the needs of investigators on campus.

Meanwhile, leaders launched the Center for Research Training, a three-tiered system in which college faculty members receive mentorship, education and other support as they learn about the research process. The center, which Guirgis directs, is specifically designed to address the varying levels of research interest on campus.

Anatalia Labilloy MD, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor of pediatrics, received the first Jax Scholars award, which is one of the center’s three tiers. As such, Labilloy, who is studying lysosomal storage disorders, now has significant time allotted for research and is receiving funding to pursue advanced research training. That includes options for a certificate or master’s degree in a research-related discipline.

The other two tiers of the Center for Research Training are: 

  • Research Essentials, which provides a broad introduction to research and features free monthly seminars for anyone interested in research, from the “dabblers” to those who may have a slightly more serious interest.

  • Research Training Academy, which targets a more specific group of faculty members selected by department chairs to undergo intensive training on grant writing and research methodology.

Among other successes during 2019-2020, the Office of Research Affairs:

  • Improved virtual capabilities for researchers and staff.

  • Strengthened connections with UF researchers in Gainesville by funding an embedded data analyst position within the UF Health Integrated Data Repository and merging with UF colleagues in Gainesville to form a singular institutional review board.

  • Supported the university’s One UF mission by successfully launching key cross-campus initiatives. Highlights include the enrollment of more than 220 participants in the HERO Registry to help evaluate the impact of COVID-19 among health care workers.

  • Expanded its research infrastructure by enhancing the accessibility of services and resources through a web-based intake portal.

Looking ahead

For fiscal year 2021, college leaders are establishing a new clinical research office that is designed to accelerate industry-sponsored and NIH-funded clinical research. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the office will be constructed to better protect against known and unknown perturbations.  

In propelling the new office, faculty and staff will partner with Veeva Systems, a San Francisco-based company that provides operational solutions to academic health centers and clinical research sites. SiteVault will be Veeva’s first product implemented at the office.

“This secure cloud platform is a full eRegulatory system that will reduce administrative burdens, provide efficient administrative workflows, enhance remote monitoring capabilities and deliver customized dashboard and reporting capacities,” said Tina Bottini, senior assistant dean for research at the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville.

 Other goals for the Office of Research Affairs are to:

  • Launch Consent2Share capabilities on campus, with an initial rollout in gastroenterology. The technology allows patients to determine, through an online consent process, which health information they would like to share and not share with providers and researchers.

  • Continue to grow the Center for Data Solutions, Center for Research Training and Center for Biospecimen Procurement while exploring the addition of a fourth center around entrepreneurship.

  • Recruit investigators with trajectory to build NIH programs and further align with overall UF research efforts, starting with a junior investigator in health services research focused on cancer and health disparities.

“As we continue to navigate through a pandemic and other unprecedented challenges, research remains a core focus at our academic health center,” said Leon L. Haley Jr., M.D., MHSA, dean of the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville and CEO of UF Health Jacksonville. “We will continue to invest in research, attract forward-thinking talent and further strengthen our infrastructure while pursing projects that are highly collaborative. We want to push the boundaries of innovation to achieve our mission to heal, to comfort, to educate and to discover.” 

Featured Faculty

Dominick J. Angiolillo, MD, PhD, FACC

Dominick J. Angiolillo, MD, PhD, FACC

Chief, Division of Cardiology; Medical Director, UF Health Cardiovascular Center - Jacksonville; Medical Director, Cardiovascular Research Program; Program Director, Interventional Cardiology Fellowship

Jennifer N. Fishe, MD

Jennifer N. Fishe, MD

Associate Professor
Associate Medical Director, Pediatric Emergency Medicine; Director, Center for Data Solutions

Faheem W. Guirgis, MD, FACEP

Faheem W. Guirgis, MD, FACEP

Associate Professor
Program Director, Emergency Medicine and Acute Care Research Fellowship; Director, Center for Research Training

Alexander S. Parker, PhD

Alexander S. Parker, PhD

Senior Associate Dean for Research