When the Northwestern University Multidisciplinary Clinical Research Center (MCRC) in Rheumatology launched a decade ago, it marked the evolution of a grant that’s been part of the division for more than 30 years.
Recently awarded its fourth cycle of continuous National Institutes of Health (P60) funding, the center has grown to include a strengthening program in osteoarthritis research and a focus on health care utilization, with particular emphasis on underserved minorities.
Led by Director Leena Sharma, MD, Solovy/Arthritis Research Society Research Professor, the MCRC centralizes rheumatologic disease research at the University, supporting investigators who conduct cutting-edge work aimed at the prevention and control of disorders affecting joints, muscles, connective tissues, and bones.
“The center continues to unite the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Division of Rheumatology with other departments and institutes at Northwestern,” said Sharma. “By organizing well-crafted collaborations that leverage existing resources and funded work around two cores that centralize and make more efficient administrative, methodological, and statistical activities, the center enables higher quality projects, at less cost, with greater synergy.”
Since its inception under the leadership of Richard Pope, MD, chief of rheumatology, the MCRC has focused on important issues relating to the consequences of arthritis and musculoskeletal diseases. The center’s projects have included investigations into the progression of osteoarthritis of the knee, the development of the complications of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus, and the genetic mechanisms that contribute to the pathogenesis of scleroderma.
“Our success in this most recent round of funding was particularly uncertain given that a much smaller number of centers are receiving MCRC grants nationally and there was less emphasis given to past accomplishments and more given to the scientific quality of the proposed new work,” Sharma said. “It was Dr. Frank Schmid’s desire to bring the P60 to Northwestern to transform the division into more of a serious research organization. This clearly worked.”
The center operates as an integrated unit, bringing together the medical school’s adult and pediatric Divisions of Rheumatology, as well as various other divisions within the Departments of Medicine and Preventive Medicine, the Center for Healthcare Studies, the Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago Research Corporation, and Children’s Memorial Hospital. Moreover, it fosters interactions among centers throughout the United States and around the world.
“The MCRC has a legacy of highly effective leadership and outstanding productivity,” Sharma said. “There is also no doubt that the center has exerted a strong impact on my career development and accelerated my movement and the movement of others through each stage of career maturation.”