Increasing collaboration promises more innovations for OHSU and its new School of Science & Engineering
One year after OHSUis groundbreaking move to bring a health research university and a graduate engineering school under one umbrella, researchers in biology, the environment, computer science and engineering, and electrical engineering are working collaboratively to conquer civilizationis most challenging diseases and problems.
That was one goal of the July 2001 merger between Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) and the Oregon Graduate Institute of Science & Technology (OGI), and it appears to be working exactly as planned. Both institutions now have new names (Oregon Health & Science University and OGI School of Science & Engineering, respectively), new faces and a handful of innovative, interdisciplinary collaborations that promise to address three critical issues of the 21st century: health, the environment and information technology.
"As the information sciences and life sciences converge, we are helping bring them together through interdisciplinary research," said Edward Thompson, Ph.D., dean of the OGI School of Science & Engineering. "But to have interdisciplinary research, you need people willing to collaborate. Our scientists have been working together for years, and it's much more efficient to have everyone on the same team."
Peter Kohler, M.D., president of OHSU, agrees. "Based on what weire already seeing, we have some amazing possibilities ahead of us in the decades to come," he said. "The merger gives us an exciting opportunity to take science to the next level so that we can provide even better science, education, and health care for the people of Oregon and this nation."
Technology for better health
One interdisciplinary project is creating software that can recognize and transform speech and language for people with speech disabilities. Another collaborative team has received a grant to model brain function in a fish that uses its electrosensory system to hunt, navigate and communicate so that scientists can someday better understand how the human brain processes highly complex information. A highly sophisticated computer modeling project that environmental scientists at the School of Science & Engineering are using to determine water flow in the Columbia River is being used by cardiology researchers to model the flow of blood within the human heart. Scientists hope it will someday enable physicians to treat babies whose hearts arenit functioning properly.
Yet another project involves collaboration between health professionals and computer scientists. They are studying which values physicians, nurses and other health care professionals rely most upon in the intensive care unit (ICU) to make often split-second decisions for patients. The goal is to create computer tools that will help health care professionals better organize and share information for critical decision making.
"These projects show the kind of practical research scientists from both campuses are doing every day to better peopleis lives," Thompson said. Many other collaborations are forming, and some have recently applied for grants. Trend toward research collaborations Collaborations between scientists of seemingly disparate disciplines are likely to become the norm nationwide, Thompson and Kohler said.
"The merger and what it promises for science and engineering is definitely on the leading edge," Thompson said. "It's no longer enough 'just' to be a biologist or 'just' a computer scientist or ejusti an environmental scientist. There has to be synergy between all of these disciplines to make progress in human health." Adds Kohler, "I wouldn't be surprised if more academic health centers begin reaching out to researchers of all specialties who are tackling complex societal problems and delivering solutions that will better patient care."
Though the concrete benefits of the merger are likely to come slowly, they will be significant, Thompson said. The School of Science & Engineering is expected to grow almost 50 percent during the next 10 years, adding more faculty in new research areas and attracting top-tier students. Laboratories will be updated and a new department created to focus on biomedical engineering. "We're still learning to work efficiently as part of the OHSU family and bridge some of the gaps that come from having two campuses located 15 miles apart,i Thompson said. But, he added, iIive been through a number of mergers over my career. I can honestly say that this is the best one Iive been through so far. I am very proud that the merger is heading toward success."
One recent move to more strongly connect OHSU's Marquam Hill and West campuses is the appointment in May 2002 of the universityis first-ever vice provost for the West Campus, which includes the OGI School of Science & Engineering, the Oregon National Primate Center, the Neurological Sciences Institute, and the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute. Marilyn Lanier will coordinate fiscal services, facilities, information technology, human resources, and academic and student affairs.
About OHSU/OGI School of Science & Engineering
OHSU includes four specialty schools, including the schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and science & engineering. The School of Science & Engineering has 63 faculty and more than 500 graduate students in five academic departments: Environmental Science and Engineering, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Computer Science and Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Management in Science and Technology. A new, multidisciplinary Department of Biomedical Engineering is under development as a result of the merger.