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Regaining New York’s Lead in Medical Research

New York has many renowned medical schools and hospitals that at one time made New York the nation’s leader in medical research and funding. Three major projects in the city share the goal of returning New York to that leadership status: the Mayor’s Task Force on Biomedical Research and Development, AMDeC, and the New York Structural Biology Center.

Other regions in the United States have worked together and succeeded in surpassing New York in research funding, particularly in grants from the National Institutes of Health. That kind of collaboration was the focus of a speech delivered Dec. 8 by New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani at the Russ Berrie Pavilion Conference Center, where the mayor announced his special task force.

“New York used to be the nation’s unrivaled leader in biomedical research, attracting 15.1 percent of all NIH funding back in 1981,” Mr. Giuliani said. “Today, we’re no longer first. We rank third.”

Dr. Herbert Pardes, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Faculty of Medicine, is a member of the task force. “Biomedical research is one of the strongest areas of opportunity for attracting funding, founding new biotechnology companies, creating jobs, and stimulating the city’s economy, while simultaneously producing the major new scientific discoveries that will lead to revolutionary lifesaving treatments,” he says in praise of the mayor’s task force. Although Columbia has experienced growth in this area, Dr. Pardes cited the University’s success as an exception to a downward trend in the region over the past 15 years.

The task force has been asked to make recommendations to the mayor on how New York can strengthen and improve its standing in biomedical research and technology.

An example of this collaborative strategy, which has been up and running since 1996, was alluded to by the mayor. “There are already some very excellent models . . . like AMDeC. It’s a strong private, independent coalition of 25 leading academic medical institutions in the city who are coming up with strategies for securing funds by working together as a group rather than working against each other.”
Dr. Maria K. Mitchell, AMDeC’s president, says AMDeC was formed with the primary goal of returning New York to the top in funding after the state dropped behind California and Massachusetts in NIH funding. “Columbia has been instrumental in shaping AMDeC’s role and activities,” says Dr. Mitchell. She notes that Columbia’s strength in NIH funding is helpful to AMDeC, and it is reason to praise the University for demonstrating a far-sighted wisdom in supporting the organization.

After being launched with a handful of supporting medical centers, AMDeC’s membership has expanded and taken on new goals in addition to its original mission, such as the New York Cancer Project. The cancer project calls on the city’s combined medical resources and its population to establish unprecedented experimentation along with a related database shared by all of AMDeC’s member institutions.

New York Structural Biology Center
Joining forces to meet a common goal might seem like a new concept in the medical community, but the strategy has been in practice in New York’s corporate world for the past 20 years with the New York City Partnership. Established by David Rockefeller in 1979, the Partnership has allowed the city’s business and civic leadership to work together in an ongoing effort to improve New York’s economic climate.
The Partnership is aware of New York’s dip in research and funding and recognizes a return to the top as both a worthy and attainable goal, says Justin Blake, director of public relations for the Partnership. That is why the Partnership’s Policy Center is coordinating a joint effort of 10 leading New York medical institutions, including Columbia University, in construction of the New York City Structural Biology Center.
“What is most impressive is the collaboration itself. I don’t think any one institution could accomplish this on its own,” Mr. Blake says. “No one institution could create this kind of facility that certainly rivals, if not betters, any other of its kind in the world.”

The center will be housed in a building provided to the Partnership by City College of New York. Located on the school’s campus at 131st Street and Convent Avenue, it will make available state-of-the-art technological advances in the field of biological research.
Magnetic resonance technology, according to a description of the center written by the Policy Center’s president and CEO, Willa Appel, enables a scientist to examine molecules in their natural, solution state as well as in solid form.

Dr. Ann McDermott, professor of chemistry and biological sciences, is one of the scientists representing Columbia in this project. She will rely on this technology for her work with membrane imbedded proteins. “Very little is known about the structures, and especially the dynamics, of intrinsic membrane proteins,” she explains. “With the instrumentation I currently have, this project is unfeasible.” Dr. McDermott hopes the magnetic resonance technology planned for the center will make her work possible.

“I think this center will have a big impact on city-wide cooperation in our field. I think it will eventually make New York City a more visible place for structural biology.”

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