UConn Health 2020 – Research Goals

Through UConn Health 2020 and the strategic refresh process, the Health Center is forging a new path aimed at transforming our institution. The initiative, developed from the input of faculty and staff, delineates an overall strategy for becoming a top-tier academic medical center in research, education and patient care.

The six overarching goals of UConn Health 2020:

  • Innovate and discover
  • Prepare graduates for lifelong success
  • Deliver world-class health care
  • Enhance wellness and health equity
  • Become a “best place to work”
  • Ensure financial health and strength

Over the next several months, we’ll take a closer look at each of these goals and what each means for the Health Center community. We begin with “innovate and discover.”

Victor Hesselbrock, professor of psychiatry, at his office at the UConn Health Center. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Victor Hesselbrock, UConn Health Center’s interim senior associate dean of research. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Health Center Today sat down with Victor Hesselbrock, interim senior associate dean of research, to talk about the path to becoming a world-renowned destination for cutting edge research.

Q: Give us a glimpse of the state of research at the Health Center?
A: Considering the severe cutbacks in federal research funding over the past several years, the Health Center is actually doing okay. Our faculty has been extremely creative and has learned how to diversify their funding requests. They no longer solely rely on the National Institutes of Health or other national agencies. They have refocused to include other, often smaller, opportunities that will allow them to continue to progress with their research.

Q: What are some examples of these other funding opportunities?
A: Our faculty has had success exploring state and local money from various philanthropic foundations, corporations, as well as donors. For instance, the Connecticut Stem Cell Research Program and foundations such as Donaghue, Ford, Carnegie, and Robert Wood Johnson, among others. And our own institutions have been generous with grant support, including the Connecticut Institute for Clinical and Translational Science (CICATS), the University’s USIG grants, CHPP, The Institute for Systems Genomics, and the Health Center’s SPARK Grants.

Q: How much money did we receive for research last year?
A: The total amount we received for research from all sources was over $54.6 million for the last 6 months of 2013, mostly from federal sources. That represents a 5 to 7 percent increase in funding over last year. This comes at a time when a number of larger research institutions across the country saw their funding levels drop.

Q: What would you consider our strengths?
A: The areas of research that we are the most competitive for funding and are on the leading edge of translational research findings are aging, addictions, neuroscience, immunology and genomics. Each of these areas has both well-funded, well-established senior investigators, as well as promising junior faculty.

Q: Much of the lab area in the main building is being renovated. How has that impacted research?
A: The renovations on the seven research floors in the main building are really needed because the labs are small and outdated. The labs have had to relocate to other areas during the construction so it obviously has hindered the researchers’ operations to some degree but the work is being done in phases to try to minimize the disruption.

Q: What are the specific benefits of having new research labs?
A: The new labs will be state-of-the-art with open, larger work areas that will facilitate interactions among research groups. The Cell and Genome Sciences Building at 400 Farmington Ave. is also going to be expanded in order to include more space for incubator companies. Overall, the new construction and renovations happening here will foster increased collaboration among our investigators with other institutions and biotech companies throughout the region. I always think of it as – when you have a new car, other people want to ride with you.

Q: How do you think Bioscience Connecticut has impacted the ability to innovate and discover?
A: It was the Bioscience Connecticut initiative that attracted The Jackson Laboratory to our state. The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine will enable the state to assume a position of global leadership in developing new medical treatments tailored to each patient’s unique genetic makeup. It’s estimated the project will create 300 jobs at the new facility and an additional 331 research-related jobs on the Health Center campus. We’ve already attracted a number of internationally known scientists to Connecticut because of this initiative. Bioscience Connecticut also expands our schools – medical, dental and biomedical sciences – which will move them into more competitive positions nationwide.

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