Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Jerry Nadler to Leave UVA for EVMS

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U.Va. researcher is EVMS' first catch in new initiative


In renowned diabetes researcher Dr. Jerry Nadler, Eastern Virginia Medical School has landed its $8 million man in the hope that he'll pay off big in more medical research dollars and better health care for Hampton Roads.

"He serves as the epitome of the kind of people we need," said Gerald Pepe, EVMS' dean, who hired Nadler away from the University of Virginia's medical school to head its internal medicine department.

Nadler is the first big recruit for a research initiative Pepe announced in the summer of 2006.

At the time, he envisioned increased study of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and women's and infant health issues. Established researchers would mentor promising beginners. And coveted National Institutes of Health grant money would roll in.

Nadler has all of those areas covered, Pepe said.

Nadler is chairman of the endocrinology and metabolism department at U.Va. that in 2007 was ranked eighth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

His research focuses on the cardiovascular effects of diabetes and how heart disease - and its treatments - differ between men and women. He also has served as a mentor, helping promising researchers get NIH grants.

With financial help from Sentara Healthcare, Nadler was lured to EVMS in part by an $8 million package that will pay for him to "recruit a cadre of top-notch faculty and provide each with nationally competitive research development packages," Pepe said. The result will be an expanded diabetes center and a new cardiovascular research center.

While $8 million may sound like a lot of money, Pepe characterized the package as "modest" for "highly recruited leaders like Nadler" who typically could ask a school to invest as much as $40 million in a new research team.

When Pepe began his initiative, he intended to recruit established research stars rather than people just starting out in their careers.

"It's less expensive to do it the other way," said Nadler, who will be replacing the retiring Dr. Leon-Paul Georges at EVMS in July. "But it doesn't work."

Nadler said he will be bringing about $1 million in NIH grants to EVMS, which in 2007 had about $3.5 million. His move to Norfolk also means that an NIH-funded research program from the U.Va. endocrinology department will be jointly run at EVMS.

But beyond the immediate research dollars, Pepe said that NIH is increasingly looking for research that takes an interdisciplinary team approach and can demonstrate the possible health benefits down the line. That's the centerpiece of his research initiative and something Nadler is especially good at, Pepe said.

Pepe said he has gotten calls from researchers saying, " 'I hear Dr. Nadler is coming.' It's an opportunity to bring in the rising stars."

EVMS has traditionally had strength in its clinical and teaching aspects, but has been less successful in attracting NIH grants, considered the gold standard for medical research.

The school's amount of NIH funding was ranked 115th out of 123 medical schools in 2005, the latest year NIH ranked the schools. U.Va.'s medical school was ranked 33rd.

But what EVMS does have, Nadler said, is a dean who is an NIH-funded researcher himself - referring to Pepe, a scientist who studies the effects of estrogen on pregnancy.

Nadler said he was drawn to EVMS, in part, by the prospect of "working for someone who understands what you want to do.... A dean who understands research. That's very exciting for me."

What EVMS also has is a much larger patient base than U.Va. in Charlottesville. That area had a significantly smaller population and lower rates of diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure in 2005 than all of the cities in Hampton Roads, according to the Virginia Atlas of Community Health.

"It's a big moment for the dean and the faculty, and it's also good for what ails us in our community. We've got another star working on diabetes" and cardiovascular disease, said EVMS President Harry Lester. "He's working on things that can translate for better health care in Hampton Roads."

Nadler said EVMS has the facilities now for him and his team to get started but "in two years, that's going to be saturated." A new building to house classrooms and labs is critical and would attract more researchers to EVMS, Nadler and Pepe said.

School officials are advocating for the $59 million cost of the building to be included in a higher education bond package now before the General Assembly.

"Everything is here to make it work," Nadler said. "I bring another component to foster what's already here."

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