Research update with Dr. Richard Kim

Research activities in the Department of Medicine continue to grow and evolve, with an integrated approach to measure, support and guide researchers. Dr. Richard Kim, Associate Chair of Research and Director of the Program of Experimental Medicine, shares the Department’s vision and key priorities for research. 

What is the Department of Medicine’s vision for research?

Faculty members in the Department of Medicine contribute to all aspects of translational research and many are internationally recognized leaders in their field.

One of the key initiatives we’ve been working toward as a Department is an integrated approach to research infrastructure and support. In order to accomplish this, an integrated system was implemented in 2009, now called the Program of Experimental Medicine (POEM)

We have clinical and basic sciences focused researchers located at different hospitals, as well as at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. POEM brings the Department’s research activities together within a single departmental structure. The goal for POEM is to provide the research environment and leadership that will enable research excellence and success for faculty within the Department.

How does POEM support researchers in the Department? 

We are guided by three core principles.

The first is to measure what we are doing with our research activities. As a Department, we want to know what research activities are taking place and measure the output, including success with grants, high-impact publications and other scholarly achievements.

Every year, we undertake a peer-review process to look at the progress of faculty members. This is very helpful for our academic and division leaders, as it identifies who is engaged in research within the Department.

The second principle is to provide support, and this is a large part of our mandate. This includes Department-wide budgeting to support research activities and enable researchers to spend more time carrying out research activities.

There is also baseline support in terms of research methodology, which can be a challenge for clinical faculty who are juggling clinical and teaching priorities. This includes resources and support for study design, sample size and statistical descriptions. POEM’s administrative team is also available to troubleshoot any roadblocks with paperwork or the submission process for grant applications.

And the final principle is focused on guidance. POEM aims to encourage teamwork, collaboration and mentorship among faculty.

Mentorship, in particular, is a key area of focus and plays an important role in career development for junior faculty members. Within the past few years, the Department has established a more formal structure to mentorship, including mentorship committees.

POEM also facilitates the Department of Medicine’s annual Research Competition, which is focused on junior faculty members. Each year, the Department contributes about $400,000 to support researchers. This provides initial support that helps position researchers to apply for Tri-Council or external funding. The Competition also provides experience with writing grant applications and researchers receive valuable feedback.

Looking ahead at 2021, what are the key priorities for research within the Department?

We are looking at how the Department can provide more time and salary protection for research activities. This includes creating more endowed chair positions and hopefully, bringing in Canada Research Chairs. We want to ensure our promising researchers are able to dedicate the time they need to research activities.

We’re working to facilitate collaboration among our large research programs. We have researchers studying molecular biology, genomics, population health, critical care and more, who bring unique knowledge and skills. There is also expertise across other departments at the School, so this is an ongoing process to maximize our research impact and efficiency through effective collaboration. 

We’re also trying to build awareness about the importance of clinician scientists as a role model for trainees, such as medical students and residents. As part of this, we’re focused on enhancing the research opportunities available for medical students and residents, to encourage them to consider careers in research and to demonstrate the importance of research in academic medicine.

What are the recent research achievements for the Department?

There are many successes to be proud of as a Department – a reflection of our strong research community.

I’d like to take this opportunity to celebrate and recognize junior faculty members, who have been quite successful in national funding competitions and who are working diligently to establish their research programs at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.

There are many junior faculty success stories, but a few that come to mind include Dr. Samuel Asfaha, Division of Gastroenterology, who was awarded CIHR funding to identify and target intestinal stem cells in inflammation and cancer; Dr. Tom Appleton, Division of Rheumatology, who was awarded CIHR funding to study healing in osteoarthritis patients; and Dr. Lillian Barra, also from the Division of Rheumatology, for a study on peptide therapy for rheumatoid arthritis.