The School of Medicine Dean’s Office and Office of Research would like to thank the dedicated groups that have kept our research infrastructure active during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. Nothing we have accomplished together would have been possible without them.
Wesley Burks, MD, Dean of the School of Medicine and CEO of UNC Health, Cristy Page, MD, Executive Dean of the School of Medicine, and Blossom Damania, PhD, Vice Dean for Research, would like to say a big thank you to everyone, both offsite and onsite, who remained dedicated to the UNC mission and kept our research infrastructure on track during this difficult time. We would also like to extend a special thank you to all of those managing child care and other obligations that were made more taxing during the pandemic. Nothing we have accomplished together as a community would have been possible without you, and we are in constant gratitude for your flexibility, steadfastness, and hard work.
“The success of the research infrastructure in the School of Medicine is dependent on all of our members and we are fortunate to have outstanding support groups in our school” said Blossom Damania, School of Medicine Vice Dean for Research. “We cannot function without these support groups and Dr. Burks, Dr. Page, and I whole-heartedly thank the individuals that make our work possible.”
These exceptional individuals belong to many groups on campus who support the research mission. The following list is nowhere near comprehensive, but we would like to highlight a few: the School of Medicine Planning Office, the Facility Service Division, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, the School of Medicine and UNC Health Communications team, the Division of Comparative Medicine, the Sponsored Programs Office, the Clinical Research Support Office, and our School of Medicine trainees, research staff, core directors and staff and unit administrators.
The School of Medicine Planning Office, Directed by Rob Kark, Assistant Dean for Planning, supports the School of Medicine through planning, design, construction and management of our facilities. The Planning Office has been instrumental in all of the modifications we have made to create a safe workplace and providing as seamless as possible service and access to our laboratories. They continue to think ahead and adapt to this rapidly changing environment, and we are grateful to this group for their 24-hour efforts to keep us safe, functional, and compliant.
The campus staff of the Facilities Services Division led by Anna Wu, Associate Vice Chancellor for Facility Services, is responsible for planning, managing, maintaining and improving the buildings and grounds of UNC. With the onset of the pandemic came a plethora of new and ever-changing guidelines and procedures, and without stopping operations for even a single day, this group incorporated new information and continues to help maintain a safe environment during the research reopening.
The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research (OVCR) led by Terry Magnuson, PhD, Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Genetics and Vice Chancellor for Research, oversees, develops and supports research at UNC. The OVCR provided significant help and assistance in guiding our research enterprise during the pandemic and held regular town hall meetings to answer questions about operations during the pandemic.
The School of Medicine and UNC Health Communications Team led by Chief Communications and Marketing Officer Lisa Schiller was an essential player in keeping our research community informed. The team kept us frequently updated on a rapidly changing pandemic and worked continuously to distribute guidance and information in real-time.
The Division of Comparative Medicine is led by Craig Fletcher, DVM, PhD, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Professor of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. Members of the Division of Comparative Medicine are responsible for all animal care across campus, and continued to maintain the same quality of operations despite the campus shut-down. Without this support we would not have been able to care for the animals that are so essential to our research mission or to quickly ramp up our efforts throughout the summer.
The Sponsored Programs Office, Directed by Sherry Whitaker, is the central office for research administration in the School of Medicine and is responsible for the review, approval and submission of School of Medicine grants to the NIH, foundations and non-profit organizations. Despite the campus-wide shut-down in March, grants submissions have continued, including many COVID-19 related supplements, and the School of Medicine is on track to increase total extramural funding again this fiscal year. This increase would not have been possible without the tireless and ongoing efforts of the Sponsored Programs Office.
The Clinical Research Support Office (CRSO) is a new unit that was established by the Vice Dean for Research through the Forward Together Strategic Plan and is led by John Buse, MD, PhD, the Verne S. Caviness, Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Director of the NC Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute. Laura Viera is the Director of the CRSO. The CRSO is the central administrative office supporting all human subject research across our school, and has developed the guidelines for resuming human subjects research during COVID-19. With the additional restrictions and concerns for this category of research, this office quickly took responsibility for the research guidelines and additional review process to ensure the safety of patients and our community. Thanks to the oversight of the CRSO and the many members of the Clinical Research Review Committee (CRRC), this process has allowed our researchers to get back to their important studies.
Trainees in the School of Medicine, including graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, are the backbone of the research done in our community. When the shut-down first started, our trainees paused their endeavors for the greater good and had to accept the reality that many of their educational plans were going to change. Additionally, many of the trainees were deemed communicable disease mandatory employees and continued to maintain the critical infrastructure necessary to prevent long-term adverse impact to our laboratories.
Our laboratories would not be possible without talented research staff members including lab managers, research specialists, and research technicians. Many of these individuals were also deemed communicable disease mandatory employees and continued their important roles of managing the lab and conducting or assisting critical experiments. Furthermore, many of our research staff became emergency contacts and took the responsibility of ensuring that all of the regulations and protections were in place for the laboratory to operate.
The School of Medicine Core Facilities are unique and critical parts of our infrastructure and provide essential services to our community. Many of our laboratories depend on these facilities and their expertise, and therefore in the wake of the pandemic, the directors and staff of the core facilities remained committed to supporting our researchers and quickly put safety precautions in place to keep cores operational for researchers conducting priority research. We also thank the Office of Research Technologies, Directed by Chris Gregory, PhD, for the oversight of the cores during this unprecedented time.
All of the departments, centers and programs in the School of Medicine are home to highly skilled administrators that keep each unit afloat. These include accounting technicians, business managers, executive assistants, grants managers, human resource representatives, and student service specialists. These individuals are responsible for the essential operations needed to run a research or academic program, and without their quick adjustments to new working conditions, including maintaining full operations virtually, and regulatory matters, our units would not be able to function.
“We continue to highlight the research prominence in the School of Medicine and discoveries made by our faculty and their teams, including our COVID-19 Research Heroes published in April” notes Damania. “We would like to take this opportunity to recognize the many people behind the scenes that make this high level of research possible.”