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Building a Bright Future for Research at Saint Louis University

Research holds the key to discovery and paves the way for life-saving medical advances—and Saint Louis University School of Medicine clinicians and scientists are well prepared for the challenge. 

Artistic desisgn featuring some geometric shapes

Two thousand twenty-two marked the beginning of a transformational chapter in Saint Louis University School of Medicine’s history—characterized by increased investment and new opportunities for basic, clinical, and translational research. With the launch of the Office of Research, the School of Medicine is providing researchers and clinicians a platform to investigate and accelerate the most pressing questions facing global health. 

Headshot of Adriana Montano

Led by Adriana M. Montaño, Ph.D., vice dean for research and professor of pediatrics, and Noah Hillman, M.D., interim associate dean of clinical research, the Office of Research is poised to advance Saint Louis University research to new heights. 

A Transformational Time

Guided by the School of Medicine’s five-year strategic plan, the Office of Research is reimagining our systems to drive efficiency, exploration, collaboration, and innovation across the entire School of Medicine. 

Dr. Montaño and her team are propelling the next generation of research forward. “Research is not just about the process,” Montaño says. “It’s about people, education, mentorship, support, and how we’re changing the lives of community members.”

The Office of Research has identified seven key pillars to elevate research excellence to the highest level:

The Office of Research supports investigators in a multitude of ways—from writing and editing grants to offering statistical assistance, procuring proper equipment, and accessing the right space to conduct a project. This works supports the School of Medicine as a leader in many areas of research. 

“This is a transformational time at SLU where research is our number one priority,” says Montaño. “People are doing incredible work at SLU—inspired by the mission of the University. We are tackling problems in our community and making sure these ideas can become a reality.”

Sandra Cornell, M.B.A., M.H.A, research planning and operations manager, is energized to see the renewed emphasis on research at SLU. “Unfortunately, the pandemic was an eye opener for so many people about how important research is,” Cornell says. “Now more than ever, society at large is beginning to understand that research needs to be supported. We’re excited to be at the forefront of bringing light to research activities.”

In her role at the Office of Research, Cornell connects investigators with the right space for their projects—a crucial component in long-term feasibility and success. “I’m excited about the prospect of where we’re headed and to be at the forefront of bringing new energy to research at SLU,” she shares.

Prioritizing Collaboration

In the summer of 2022, the School of Medicine and SSM Health forged a new partnership to create the region’s leading integrated healthcare model. SLU and SSM Health have collaborated for decades, and this integration provides community members with seamless access to care—and increased collaboration across the organizations.

Noah Hillman, M.D., interim associate dean of clinical research, is excited about the expansion of resources to advance clinical and translational research. Hillman oversees the Clinical Trials Office, which runs industry-sponsored trials, and the Clinical Research Units, which offer investigators the support they need to conduct clinical research. “We prioritize research based on feasibility and academic productivity—which means publications for the principal investigators,” Hillman says. “Part of the reason I was asked to take on this role is because I’m a clinician scientist and researcher—but I’m also a doctor in the SSM hospital system.”

Hillman sees the expansion of the relationship between the School of Medicine and SSM Health as an important step in serving the greater St. Louis community. “We consider whether the research provides our patients with access to new innovations that may only be available through research projects,” he says.

Other exciting projects in motion besides the deeper collaboration between the School of Medicine and SSM Health—including partnerships with the Advanced Health Data (AHEAD) Research Institute and the Taylor Geospatial Institute.

One developing collaboration is the Metabolics Institute, developed by Wing-Kin Syn, M.D., Ph.D., director of gastroenterology and hepatology and Ajay Jain, M.D. associate director of pediatric gastreonterology and hepatology in the Department of Internal Medicine. The Institute will provide clinical support for patients with diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and other diseases. “This project addresses community health challenges in St. Louis with an understanding of social determinants of health,” shares Montaño. “It will be a very personalized experience in which physicians will all gather with the patient and discuss their health needs during the visit.”

Fueled by Commitment

The launch of the Office of Research and the expansion of the Clinical Trials Office will not only promote further clinical research opportunities—but also exemplify SLU’s overarching mission: The pursuit of truth for the greater glory of God and for the service of humanity. 

Providing best-in-class clinical care often starts with research—and by making a significant investment in research and infrastructure, those in the St. Louis community and beyond will reap the benefits. “It is important to conduct research to address health issues affecting our community,” says Montaño. “And at the same time, we’re making sure that our ideas become a reality by working with new partners.”

Imagining the next five years—and the impact that the Office of Research will have on growing the research program—Montaño and Hillman are confident more researchers and clinicians at the School of Medicine will have state of the art resources to explore their interests and contribute more robustly to the field of research.

Montaño and Cornell are also working in tandem to ensure that all principal investigators at the School of Medicine have the tools they need to succeed. “When we have new recruits, we ensure they have appropriate resources and facilitate new collaborations,” says Montaño. “We want to provide the appropriate mentoring to our students or clinicians who are starting clinical trials, to our principal investigators, and to those doing basic science research.”

“Our hope is to lessen hurdles—so people who want to stay in academia and work at a medical school have the ability to do both patient care and clinical or basic science research,” explains Hillman. “Everyone is working very closely to redesign this together. It’s an exciting, transformational time because of the commitment to advance research at SLU.” 

Research is not just about the process. It’s about people, education, mentorship, support, and how we’re changing the lives of community members.” - Adriana M. Montaño, Ph.D.