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Biomedical campus melds ASU, UA strengths

August 31, 2006

ASU and the University of Arizona are helping transform downtown Phoenix by working together to create a 21st century model for biomedical teaching and research.

Faculty and staff are getting ready to move this fall into three renovated historic buildings that will be home to the University of Arizona College of Medicine Phoenix program in collaboration with ASU.

Completion of this phase of construction will mark a milestone in a plan set in motion two years ago by the state's two research-extensive universities and the Arizona Board of Regents. Their collective vision was to build a biomedical campus and expand the UA College of Medicine into the heart of the state's largest metropolitan area, with the intent of improving health care for Arizona citizens.

The realization of that vision is taking shape on the Phoenix biomedical campus, just east of ASU's new downtown Phoenix campus and a few blocks from ASU's College of Nursing & Healthcare Innovation. This joint biomedical campus will be home to the UA College of Medicine's four-year Phoenix program, which is scheduled to welcome its first cohort of first-year medical students next summer. Strategic research partner Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) already is located on the site, which also will house the ASU Department of Bioinformatics in collaboration with the University of Arizona , as well as the Phoenix expansion of the UA College of Pharmacy.

Biomedical informatics is a relatively new field that melds large quantities of information in medical research, clinical practice and patient care with the power of computing, communications and informatics. It is becoming the standard for evidence-based medicine and will help usher in the era of personalized medicine. It also will be an integral component in the development of the Phoenix program.

“There is a need to change our approach to educating and training physicians of the future,” says David Young, ASU vice president and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “The rapid advances in bioscience, biotechnology and biomedical information require such a change.”


A new curriculum

Young served on a curriculum design task force organized by the Arizona Commission for Medical Education and Research (ACMER), which was established in 2004 by Gov. Janet Napolitano. Phoenix program faculty, including eight ASU faculty members with joint appointments, will work over the next several months to develop curriculum based on ACMER's design recommendations.

“I am particularly pleased that professor Mark Haussler, Regents Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, chose to transfer from Tucson to become the founding chair of the Department of Basic Medical Sciences in Phoenix ,” Young says. “Mark is an outstanding scholar-teacher and will be an excellent mentor for the Phoenix faculty.

“This past spring, we were able to recruit some exceptional individuals as the founding faculty of the Phoenix program, including several ASU faculty.”

Adds Haussler: “Eight of ASU's finest life and computer scientists have joined the UA Basic Medical Sciences Phoenix Program. All are premier, experienced educators who display great camaraderie in working with other new UA faculty to develop an innovative medical curriculum. We are extremely fortunate to have attracted such a group of enthusiastic, dedicated and brilliant faculty.”

Biomedical informatics will be the foundation of the innovative curriculum, which also will focus on personalized medicine, longitudinal scholarly experience, and an integration of clinical and basic science training throughout all four years of study.

“The scholarly activity portion of the Phoenix program will provide students with faculty-mentored research experiences and structured activities in areas of individual interest,” Young says.

Associated with the scholarly activity is a learning community that will address competencies in areas of critical thinking, ethics, information literacy, research methodologies and responsible conduct of research.


A new collaboration

The development of the Phoenix program is a collaborative project of UA, ASU and their clinical partners.

“It is an exciting educational development that will add a new and important dimension to the strategic research linkages that ASU has with its clinical partners, including Mayo Clinic, Barrow Neurological Institute, Banner Health, Carl T. Hayden VA and Sunhealth Research Institute,” says Kathleen Matt, ASU assistant vice president for research and director of the Office of Clinical Partnership.

Sethuraman Panchanathan, director of ASU's School of Computing and Informatics in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering and interim director of the new Department of Biomedical Informatics, adds: “There is an increasing convergence of information sciences, biological sciences and clinical sciences. People with backgrounds in science, medicine and computing, and informatics will come together to realize the vision of personalized medicine.”

Panchanathan and Matt also were members of the ACMER curriculum design team.

While the administrative offices, classrooms, clinical training rooms and the learning resource center are set to open this fall, research facilities at the downtown Phoenix medical school are not expected to be completed until summer 2007. Until then, some of the research facilities for the UA College of Medicine Phoenix program faculty members will be housed in lab space created for them at ASU's Tempe and West campuses.