All for One

Memphis Research Consortium is creating the pipeline for bioscience research.

From Left: Dr. Steve Bares; Dr. Steve Schwab, chancellor of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center; Gov. Bill Haslam; and University of Memphis President Shirley Raines during the governor's January visit to the Memphis Bioworks Foundation.

Every business begins with an idea.

For some industries, it doesn’t take much more than that and a little funding to bring something to market. In the biosciences, however, so much more is needed. The Memphis Bioworks Foundation has been building programs in education and training, a world-class research park, incubator, an innovation and training center, and programs that help entrepreneurs with access to capital and strategic training. A key element that has been missing to help feed this entrepreneurial engine has been a community-wide, dedicated, and integrated research initiative.

That is where the Memphis Research Consortium (MRC) comes in.

The MRC was formed in 2010 through a partnership between 10 leading Memphis organizations: Baptist Memorial Health Care, FedEx, Medtronic, Memphis Bioworks Foundation, Methodist/Le Bonheur Healthcare, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Smith & Nephew, the University of Memphis, University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), and Wright Medical.

“Opportunities for growth occur with synergy of efforts, combining of resources and recruiting talent together. Advances in today’s science are more often made at the intersection of traditional disciplines rather than within a single discipline,” says Dr. Shirley Raines, president of the University of Memphis and an active proponent of the creation of the MRC. “The MRC helps us to bring together investigators from our three research institutions and working scientists and engineers from our corporate partners to tackle the complex biotechnology and healthcare challenges we face.”

Says Dr. Steve Bares, president and executive director of the Memphis Bioworks Foundation: “Research is the fuel of business commercialization. It is one of the most critical elements of biomedical success for our community.”

A $10 million investment from the state of Tennessee will allow the MRC to support an aggressive research recruitment program at UTHSC and U of M. One of the initial areas of focus for MRC research support is an integrated genomics and population health approach to pediatric obesity. 

Such an integrated approach will require coordinating a variety of programs and services and significant clinical research systems improvements. The $10 million divided between the two universities will allow for startup packages for hiring research faculty and supporting infrastructure.

"Developing a critical mass of scientists in a given research area helps with recruitment and expands the opportunity for research synergies and for strengthening the teaching and post-doctoral training community."

“Often the biggest hurdle to establishing a successful research area of excellence is having the resources to get it started,” says Russell Ingram, executive director of the MRC. “The state’s investment offers a giant step forward. The universities will recruit knowing they can offer the research teams the resources they need to be successful.”

Says Dr. Bill Evans, Director and CEO of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, “If the MRC is successful in helping the University of Tennessee and the University of Memphis recruit strong new faculty in the disciplines of genomics, computational biology, and population health, this would be very advantageous for St. Jude, because we have strong and growing faculty in these important areas, and the more colleagues they have in Memphis, the better. Developing a critical mass of scientists in a given research area helps with recruitment and expands the opportunity for research synergies and for strengthening the teaching and post-doctoral training community.”

Pediatric obesity is a burgeoning national health problem. It is a ticking bomb because the greatest consequences are health problems if children become obese adults. Memphis is an ideal city for research in pediatric obesity because of the size of the problem here.

“If Memphis can lead the way in understanding the predisposing factors [genes, environment, behavior], then this work will garner national attention, and genetic and population health strategies will be deployed to understand this problem and to develop the interventions that overlap with many other areas of research,” Evans says.

Other areas of focus will follow for the MRC, creating additional opportunities for collaboration across Memphis’ education, healthcare, and business sectors.

“In the end, the MRC has the ability to help substantially raise the levels of research in our community, which in turn raises the potential for greater levels of commercialization,” Bares says. “All of that drives new business, creating new jobs and making the community attractive to other research. It is all interconnected.” 

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