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Dome - Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration Is Key to Research and Discovery

Dome April 2014

Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration Is Key to Research and Discovery

Date: April 1, 2014

Antony Rosen encourages researchers to forge partnerships.
Antony Rosen encourages researchers to forge partnerships.

Antony Rosen, the Dr. Mary Betty Stevens Professor of Medicine, was recently appointed vice dean for research. In his new role, Rosen leads a research enterprise that receives more federal support annually—more than $574 million in 2013—than counterparts at other U.S. medical schools.

A native of South Africa, Rosen was an Osler resident and rheumatology fellow at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. In 2002, he was appointed professor and director of the Division of Rheumatology. Under his leadership, the division has expanded the fellowship program and nearly doubled its faculty, from 14 to 26.

Rosen’s research is focused on autoimmune rheumatic diseases, including Sjogren’s syndrome, scleroderma, lupus, myositis, rheumatoid arthritis and vasculitis. His work is done in partnership with his wife, Livia Casciola-Rosen, an associate professor of medicine.


What excites you most about your new role as vice dean for research?

We have extraordinary opportunities to define the causes and mechanisms of human disease and to define basic biological pathways that none of us have really known about before. New technologies and tools make this an era of unparalleled opportunity.

Due to the current funding climate, it’s also a time of unprecedented challenge, so I think the first message is that optimism trumps gloom. Our ability to collaborate will become more and more critical.

Why is collaboration so crucial at this juncture?

The old ways of research were great for individual investigators to be successful. The new way requires that we do things in teams, because the real opportunities lie at the interfaces where disciplines meet. One of the things we will do is create venues where people from different disciplines get together and talk in a common language about really important basic problems in human disease and biology. Hopefully, they will generate new synergistic ideas that will make us more successful in discovery and harnessing resources for discovery.

Will you formalize this collaborative approach?

One of the best ways to encourage people to work together is to incentivize it. The newly established Discovery Fund, which offers institutional funds to faculty to perform novel, synergistic projects, encourages people to put together projects that have never been done before and answer really neat, innovative questions. These grant proposals require collaboration between people with different skills. The grants will be up to $100,000 for one year, and they will allow people to take a preliminary idea and generate data with a view of getting that eligible for funding from another source. We have many other plans to enhance collaboration.

With funding from the National Institutes of Health expected to remain flat at best, can you sustain your optimism?

There is a flattening of available NIH resources—probably a real decrease, if we take inflation into account—but we need to ensure that there will not be a flattening of overall resources available to our discovery mission. We must be creative and innovate; we must be ambitious and optimistic. The flattening of resources doesn’t really frighten me if we take advantage of novel synergies, opportunities and interfaces.

What is your biggest challenge?

We need to think clearly about how to decrease the barriers to research. Our structures need to be better designed to help people do their work. People shouldn’t have to do things because that’s the way it’s always been. We need to shake loose of that and modernize our systems.

—Michael Keating