A Note from the Director: IHSI 2.0
In March, the closing of schools and workplaces led many of us, as individuals, as family members, and as employees now working largely remotely, to engage in some home “restructuring.” Adapting to a new environment, in which we rarely left our own homes, required some immediate and noticeable changes—dining tables became desks, living rooms became classrooms, backyards became recreation centers. As time went on, many of us found opportunities to engage in other, less visible types of restructuring—reevaluating personal and family priorities, redefining work and sleep schedules, rethinking our role in society, and reimagining future plans.
The University of Illinois certainly took on the challenges of reevaluating, redefining, and rethinking during these extraordinary times. The university marshalled the incredible talents here on campus to maximize the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, developing and deploying the nation’s most comprehensive and innovative COVID-19 testing, tracing, and notification program, all the while continuing to support the educational, research, and service missions of the university.
We at IHSI have been similarly engaging in our own “re” activities, prompted both by the immediate demands of the health pandemic and its implications for the university and the community, and by the longer-term changes to the health landscape at Illinois over the six years we have been an institute (or, previously, an initiative). Responding to COVID-19-related issues and the emerging needs of Illinois’ increasingly robust health sciences ecosystem, reevaluating our institute priorities, redefining timelines, rethinking our role on campus, and reimaging our future, we are in the process of making some immediate, visible changes, as well as more gradual, less conspicuous changes.
One immediate change is the way in which our institute is structured to support Illinois health sciences and to help grow its external funding portfolio. Six years ago, upon IHSI’s launch, we focused our efforts around specific program areas, with particular focus on Cancer, Clinical & Translational Neuroscience, and Precision Medicine. These areas were, and are, ones with considerable historical strengths and existing commitments by many campus units, with strong potential intersection with our clinical partners, and in strong alignment with funding priorities at federal funding agencies. Focused programmatic support from IHSI and from other campus partners was geared to helping faculty accelerate their development toward robust, independent Centers of Excellence (as modeled so successfully by the Cancer Center at Illinois).
Six years later, with the maturing and expanding of the health sciences ecosystem at Illinois, and with significant new investments by campus in new facilities capable of powering research advances in promising areas, IHSI is positioning itself to provide critical infrastructure for accelerating health research campus-wide, cutting across all program areas. IHSI is building core services, and providing expertise, partnerships, and resources in line with the recommendations and vision put forth by the Health Sciences Strategy Task Force, as part of the Next 150 strategic plan for Illinois. Core infrastructure, like that found in NIH-funded Clinical and Translational Science Institutes (CTSIs), was recognized in the final report as critical to successfully expanding the impact and reputation of the health sciences at Illinois.
Going forward, IHSI will be building out our “CTSI-like” cores to provide identifiable, reliable services and resources in support of health research campus-wide. IHSI’s existing and highly productive cores—Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design (BERD); REDCap; and Community-Academic Partnerships—will continue, joined by newly formed cores—Clinical Partnerships (to include the long-standing Mayo Clinic & Illinois Alliance), Research Development (which is already providing critical organizational and administrative support of SHIELD-related research activities), and Health Equity & Diversity. Our superb staff at IHSI will continue to provide the services, resources, and expertise our research community knows and expects, but through the new core structure—IHSI 2.0.
We look forward to sharing more in the coming months. Thank you for your continued support and engagement as we enter this next chapter of IHSI.
Stay healthy, safe, and connected.
Neal J. Cohen