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Family Medicine Department Ranks in Top 20 for NIH Funding

by Maggie Rotermund on 03/29/2018
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ST. LOUIS – Saint Louis University’s Department of Family and Community Medicine ranks in the top 20 in the nation in National Institute for Health (NIH) funding, per data compiled by the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research.

Family Medicine Research

Pictured in the front row, from left, research assistant Sarah Skiöld-Hanlin, M.S.; assistant professor Jennifer R. Bello-Kottenstette, M.D.; research assistant Catherine Hearing, M.P.H.; and assistant professor Sarah Gebauer, M.D. In the second row, from left, senior biostatistician Joanne Salas, MPH; professor and director of research Jeffrey Scherrer, Ph.D.: senior research assistant Scott Secrest, MPH in May; assistant professor Dawn Davis, M.D.; and assistant professor Carissa van den Berk-Clark, Ph.D. Photo by Ellen Hutti

SLU had the 19th highest funded department in 2017, bringing in $897,547 for NIH-funded research. The top funded family medicine department was University of California at San Diego. Dartmouth College, UCLA, University of Utah and the University of New Mexico Health Science Center round out the top five. The University of Missouri – Columbia comes in at 22 on the list.

Jeffrey Scherrer, Ph.D., professor of family and community medicine at Saint Louis University and research director for the department, credits SLU’s standing to a culture of research and an investment in research infrastructure.

“David Schneider, the previous department chair, made an investment in our human resources,” Scherrer said. “We have three full-time research assistants and a senior biostatistician on staff.”

Scherrer said the addition of the research staff allowed the department to help structure support for clinical faculty to pursue their research interests. Faculty researchers are:

In addition to physicians, the family and community medicine department includes researchers and therapists, all supported by senior biostatistician Joanne Salas and research assistants Catherine Hearing, Scott Secrest and Sarah Skiöld-Hanlin.

"With our staff, and with our business manager, Virginia Westermeyer, we have a streamlined grant submission process which allows the investigator to remain focused on the research content while the staff pull together all the other components of proposal submissions," Scherrer said.

"We can support clinicians who do not have protected time by helping them turn their clinical observations into research questions.”

Using SLU's primary care patient data registry, the department has been successful in generating numerous publications in clinical epidemiology and health services research by creating collaborative teams of mentor, biostatistician and clinical faculty.

“Another piece of our research infrastructure is our practice based research network, ‘ARCHNet’ which was launched in 2016," Scherrer said. "This network of SLUCare Family Medicine practices, residency sites and private family physicians will be a valuable resource for conducting funded research.”

Clinical faculty have focused their research around health disparities related to race and sexual minority status, pain management, diabetes control and the interface of physical and mental illness.

The department has funded research in the health consequences of PTSD, chronic prescription opioid use and risk of depression, studies of patient and provider comfort level with trauma screening in primary care, and most recently, a new grant on the association between metformin and dementia.

Research by and for primary care physicians is critical to increasing our effectiveness in promoting the health of our patients and the community.”

Christine Jacobs, M.D., interim chair of family and community medicine

A 2018 study found that opioid cessation in non-cancer pain may be more successful when depression is treated to remission.

In 2017, researchers received a grant from the National Institute on Aging to investigate the relationship between the diabetes drug Metformin and dementia risk. It was the first study of metformin use and dementia risk in patients from the U.S. and the first to include a large proportion of African American and Hispanic patients.

In 2016, the department received a $1.87 million grant to strengthen behavioral health training for family physicians, who often are the primary physician seen by many adults and children, and for medical family therapists who practice alongside them.

The five-year Primary Care Training and Enhancement Award from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) funds training for family medicine residents and medical family therapy doctoral students in a Family Medicine Behavioral Health Collaborative Curriculum. The integrated program was honored by Focus St. Louis for making a difference in the St. Louis community by improving racial equality and social justice.

Under the medical family therapy program, Katie Heiden-Rootes, Ph.D., has found that male and female same-sex partnered patients fail to identify as such in medical records and that failure may contribute to poorer health outcomes.

“Family physicians care for adults, children and families over a lifetime, treating obesity, hypertension, diabetes, addiction and mental health, and addressing social determinants that influence these conditions,” said Christine Jacobs, M.D., interim chair of family and community medicine.

“Research by and for primary care physicians is critical to increasing our effectiveness in promoting the health of our patients and the community.”

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, liver disease, heart/lung disease, aging and brain disease, and infectious diseases.