VIDEO: Reinvesting in basic research

Portions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) went to basic science research. Here's an example of how some of that money is being used in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.


Remember that billion dollar pot of money the federal government released to reinvest in the country’s future?

Well, a piece of that pie went to universities throughout the U.S. towards basic research. And it could not have come too soon. The well of research money available from the National Institutes of Health has been drying up for years causing some junior scientists to question their future. Carolina faculty have already received $16 million funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

From this money, new medical research can begin, and years of existing work can continue. For a clear example of how the stimulus money is getting the pipeline to move at even the most junior level, check out this video. Brooke Russell, a Princeton University junior, got her feet wet in the area of heart and vascular research this summer. She along with the director of the UNC McAllister Heart Institute’s research lab, Dr. Cam Patterson, chief of Cardiology in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, received $20,000.

Yes, the grant funded another masterful mind and another set of laboratory eyes and hands to examine specimens under a microscope. All of this will eventually lead to discovering better ways of combating heart disease. But this grant, this $20,000 has done something more. It has helped to fuel the dream of a young, energetic, and elated black woman to follow her dream in the sciences-two groups known to be underrepresented in this field. It was an opportunity that does not always present itself in this manner.

However, what’s interesting is that this is not an uncommon dynamic in Dr. Patterson’s lab. I sat in on one of his lab meetings where everyone gets together and a couple of people discuss the progress of their research. I chuckled to myself at the time, but it was Dr. Patterson who seemed to be the minority. The room, which represented his lab, was full of women and minorities. If you ask him about it, he’ll say it’s by design. How else can you get diverse “bench to bedside” findings that impact large cross-sections of society than to have members of those groups reflected in your lab?

It is said that an Egyptian named Merit Ptah is the earliest woman known in the history of science and a Philadelphia slave named James Derham was the first black physician in America. There has been a long list of other women and minorities that have since followed. If she stays on her current path, in years to come Brooke Russell will likely be among them as well as others in Dr. Patterson’s lab.

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