UMass Medical School's Professor Christopher Sassetti
The University of Massachusetts Medical School encompasses three schools, 6,800 employees and $1 billion in revenues. Its economic impact is felt throughout Worcester County and it is emerging as a key player in the state's emphasis on life sciences initiatives, thanks to its extensive research enterprise and its development of a new 516,000-square foot life sciences center, The Albert Sherman Center.

Recovery Act Impact: UMass Medical School Research

  • Total stimulus funding: $61 million

  • Renovation of Biosafety Lab: $5.2 million

  • Ability for scientists to do research in diseases like tuberculosis and drug resistant HIV, profiling cardiac ion channel complexes and identifying binding sites in the genome

The Medical School's research efforts are impressive with annual research awards of over $300 million this past year. The grant-funded research is a major contributor to the school's budget and its research emphasis is on moving scientific discoveries into clinical applications.

The school received $61 million in stimulus grants for its research efforts and, according to John Sullivan, Vice Provost for Research at the Medical School, the funding "had a big impact on our enterprise."

As Sullivan noted, many research programs weren't receiving funding because the National Institute of Health, which supports those programs, was struggling financially. "We had great research projects that couldn't get funding," he said.

UMass Medical School

The stimulus funding enabled those research programs to get back on track and continue to explore innovative and novel ways to understand and cure a variety of infections and diseases.

The funding included $5.2 million to renovate and expand the UMass Biosafety Level 3 Laboratory, a hazardous materials lab that is crucial to enabling research studies like Dr. Christopher Sassetti's move forward. Dr. Sassetti, who is the School's assistant profoessor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems, has focused his research on discovering a drug that can work more quickly than what is currently available to cure tuberculosis, one of the three worst diseases in the world. Dr. Sassetti received $177K in stimulus funds to further his research but the renovated Bio Safety Lab will enable him to do his research on real strains of tuberculosis.

Dr. William Kobertz, an associate professor in Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at the Medical School, received $680K in stimulus funds to fund his research on how potassium functions in the heart. "We make compounds to help learn how our heart

UMass Medical School
beats," he said. "Stimulus funding helped us see how to see that."

With the funding, he explained, his lab -- thanks to the additional people he could hire -- can explore how Potassium exits the heart channels, research which will ultimately benefit people with mutations in the heart. "The funding was a life preserver in terms of keeping key people around," he said.

For Dr. Celia Schiffer, a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Parmacology at the Medical School, stimulus grants of $365K are enabling her lab to learn how to develop new drugs that are less susceptible to drug resistance. "Drug resistance is a huge problem in medicine," she said. "We want to understand how drug resistance occurs. This will impact thousands of patients worldwide and save millions of dollars."

Dr. Schiffer's grant is focused on HIV -- she noted that there are 33 million people infected worldwide with the virus and resistance in HIV emerges quickly. "ARRA funding let us do a lot of testing and retain a chemist to test these compounds," she said.

UMass Medical School's Marian Walhout
Understanding aspects of the human genome is what drives Dr. Marian Walhout, associate professor for the Medical School's Program in Molecular Medicine and its Program in Gene Function and Expression, and it is $356K in stimulus funding that is helping her do that. "We are the Indiana Jones of science," she said. "We have a huge amount of information and we dive right in trying to uncover the networks of how things are connected when you're healthy and when it goes wrong. It's like a big puzzle."

According to Professor Walhout, she used the funds to hire people and for experimental resources. "It not only provided jobs but also transformed our lab so we could secure additional funding," she said.