UI announces two new faculty clusters to focus on obesity, genetics

Twenty new faculty will be hired in seven different colleges to work jointly with existing faculty at the University of Iowa to study both the challenges of the obesity epidemic and the expanding needs of the study of genetics and genomics.

The two areas of study are the newest approved endeavors under the university's five-year cluster hire initiative, "Meeting the Grand Challenges of the 21st Century." Through this initiative the university will hire faculty in interdisciplinary groups to build on UI strengths and help the university achieve distinction in targeted areas.

Under the direction of Allyn Mark, M.D., professor and Roy J. Carver Chair in Internal Medicine, and Charles Brenner, Ph.D., Roy J. Carver Chair of Biochemistry and head of the Department of Biochemistry, the UI Obesity Initiative will focus on two areas of obesity research: community, behavioral and economic research; and basic biomedical research.

Ten new faculty members will be hired to work with existing faculty in five colleges: the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; the College of Public Health; the College of Nursing; the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine; and the Tippie College of Business. They will work with faculty in these and other colleges across the university to study their interests in obesity.

The UI Obesity Initiative will also include collaboration with both Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa through ISU's Nutrition and Wellness Research Center and the Youth Fitness and Obesity Institute at UNI.

″A distinctive feature of the UI Obesity Initiative will be the network of Regents Universities working together and with the State Department of Public Health and the Iowa business community to focus on prevention of obesity in the state of Iowa,″ Mark said. ″The launch of this statewide academic research network coincides with Gov. Branstad′s priority on a private-public partnership to promote the health and well being of Iowans, focusing on obesity."

"Because everyone personally deals with what is available to eat, how much to eat, and how much to exercise, obesity is the type of problem that has unlimited potential to engage students and the general public,″ Brenner said. ″We anticipate that this initiative will help launch Iowa into national prominence as an institution conducting leading edge research to improve weight management."

Mark and Brenner will be joined in the leadership of the UI Obesity Initiative by associate directors Linda Snetselaar, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology and director of the Nutrition Center in the College of Public Health, and Kathleen Janz, professor of health and human physiology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Peter Densen, M.D., professor of internal medicine in the Carver College of Medicine, will work with educational leaders from the involved colleges to coordinate the undergraduate and graduate educational programs.

The UI Genetics Initiative will be under the leadership of Jeffrey Murray, M.D., Roy J. Carver Chair in Perinatal Health and professor of pediatrics with joint appointments in biological sciences, dentistry, nursing and epidemiology and Richard Smith, M.D., the Sterba Hearing Research Professor and vice-chair otolaryngology-head and neck surgery.

In this initiative, 10 new faculty members will work with existing faculty in six colleges to address the current needs of genetic research and translational science as well as anticipating future growth in these areas.

The colleges participating in the UI Genetics Initiative include: the Carver College of Medicine; the College of Public Health; the College of Engineering; the College of Nursing; the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and the College of Law.

"The University of Iowa has a distinguished record of clinical care and research in genetics beginning in the 1970s," Murray said, "but there are compelling needs to have a new generation of faculty to enable us to keep pace in teaching and research with rapid changes in technologies, computational approaches to genetics and the ethical, legal and social issues created by the role of genetics in insurance, forensics, patenting and behavior."

"The genetics and obesity clusters are further evidence of what we hoped to accomplish with the cluster program," said Tom Rice, UI associate provost for faculty, who oversaw the proposal process. "These initiatives will bring together talented people from different academic areas and build on their strengths in ways that will further distinguish the University of Iowa in education, research and community service."

The Office of the Provost kicked off the cluster hire program in 2009 with a 10-faculty cluster in water sustainability. Two other clusters, on digital public humanities and aging of the mind and brain, were approved in 2010.

For more information on the cluster hire initiative see: http://provost.uiowa.edu/clusters.

Thursday, July 7, 2011