Archive for Thursday, June 21, 2007

KU Med Center officials make life science pitch

June 21, 2007

Kansas City, Kan. - Kansas University Medical Center on Tuesday rallied support behind its $800 million, 10-year plan to become a major player in life sciences research and care, but a key lawmaker expressed dissatisfaction with the proposal.

After listening to an hour-long presentation by KU officials, House Speaker Melvin Neufeld said the plan was too focused on the Kansas City metropolitan area.

"I want a lot more emphasis statewide," Neufeld, R-Ingalls, said.

"If you have a greater Kansas City vision that is going to be funded by Kansas, which has nothing to do with Missouri, that creates a problem in the Legislature," he said.

The plan calls for a partnership across state lines between KU Medical Center, and Missouri facilities, including the privately-endowed Stowers Institute for Medical Research, and several hospital systems.

KUMC executive vice chancellor Barbara Atkinson said improvements in life sciences research in the region would benefit all Kansans.

"What helps the Kansas City region helps the whole state of Kansas," she said.

Recruiting talent

KU hopes to hire 244 more faculty and add 862,500 square feet of space over the next 10 years at a cost of $800 million.

"That is the single thing that this program needs to do, is bring talent here, invest in it, start people up, build programs," Atkinson said.

Officials are counting on state appropriations, an increase in research dollars and donations to pay for the plan.

The research would advance life-saving cures and better treatments, Atkinson said.

"It's not just an investment into economic development and more jobs, but an investment in better health," she said.

She made her presentation to about 50 people at the new Kansas Life Sciences Innovation Center on the KUMC campus. Attending were political and economic movers and shakers from both Kansas and Missouri.

Role of Wichita

Neufeld pointed out that the role of KUMC's Wichita campus was not mentioned in the plan. The Wichita campus includes a unit of the School of Medicine, which provides clinical training for third- and fourth-year medical students.

"They're just kind of ignored in this whole process," he said.

And, he said, the Wichita operation was having accreditation problems because KU wouldn't devote more researchers there.

David Adkins, vice chancellor of external affairs for KUMC, said there are no accreditation problems at Wichita. He said KUMC has supported increased appropriations by the Legislature for research programs for residents in Wichita "for emerging accreditation standards."

KU School of Medicine, for both its Kansas City and Wichita campuses, recently received an eight-year renewal of its accreditation, according to KUMC spokeswoman Amy Jordan Wooden.

Research funding

State Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, said she was impressed by the KUMC proposal but recognized legislators' desires that the plan benefit the entire state.

"It's our job as the Legislature to make sure that our investment works for the state," she said.

Atkinson said Kansas has to partner up in order to grow.

For example, she said that KU's medical school ranks 81st out of 125 medical schools in National Institutes of Health funding. That $45 million in NIH funding last year had an economic impact of $1.3 billion statewide, Atkinson said.

By comparison, the University of Iowa medical school ranked 30th in NIH funding with $137 million. That had an economic impact of $4.1 billion.

"We really have a long way to go," Atkinson said.

Bob Page, incoming president and chief executive of KU Hospital, expressed support of KUMC's efforts to increase research capacity.

"Leading edge research, quality education and nationally ranked excellence in patient care must go hand in hand to move this campus forward," Page said in a prepared statement.

In recent months, KUMC and its partner KU Hospital have been at odds over a plan by KUMC to affiliate with Kansas City, Mo.-based St. Luke's Hospital. Negotiations are still going on in the matter.

- Staff writer Scott Rothschild can be reached at (785) 354-4222.

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