OHSU's climb up NIH rankings slowed in '05

Funder places school at top for grants won in five departments

Oregon Health and Science University efforts to recruit top-level medical researchers seem to have paid off in at least one major area, according to annual rankings recently released by the National Institutes of Health.

But the 2005 rankings of institutions winning research funding from NIH show the university didn't gain as much ground as it had in previous years. And it still has a hill to climb to reach its goal of breaking into the top 20 institutions for NIH grants.

The rankings on NIH research grant funding - one of the largest pots of federal medical research funds available - were released over the last week.

Among the good news in the rankings for OHSU: Its anesthesiology department increased its ranking in NIH research funding from 15th in 2004 to third last year. That was mostly a result of OHSU's recruiting Dr. Jeffrey Kirsch from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 2003. Kirsch helped bring several other top anesthesiology researchers to Oregon from the Baltimore medical school, said Dr. Dan Dorsa, OHSU's vice president for research.

All of the former Johns Hopkins researchers already had won significant research grant funding from the NIH and brought those grants with them, Dorsa said.

Other good news in the rankings for OHSU: In five departments or categories of NIH funding, OHSU ranked among the top five schools of medicine nationally.

Besides its anesthesiology ranking, OHSU ranked second in neurosciences research funding, fourth in otolaryngology - medicine dealing with head and neck surgery - and fifth in research grants for emergency medicine. The university also ranked third in the NIH funding category of 'other basic sciences.'

'We continue to grow,' Dorsa said of OHSU research grants. The university's grant funding is growing faster than the overall growth of NIH funding, Dorsa said.

'We're sort of outcompeting a lot of the rest of the country for a share of … the federal dollars that are available,' he said.

Still, OHSU, which has made winning a larger share of national research grants an institutional priority in recent years, seemed to lose a bit of momentum in NIH funding growth in 2005.

NIH research grant funding for the university's school of medicine doubled from 1999 through 2004, to $162.7 million. It increased only about 3.5 percent from 2004 to 2005, to about $168.8 million.

And the university still is a distance away from being in the top 20 in NIH funding.

It jumped two spots, from 30th to 28th, among all U.S. higher education institutions in the amount of NIH research grants. It also jumped two spots, from 35th to 33rd, in the rankings of all institutions - hospitals, research centers, and public and private foundations - receiving NIH funding.

It dropped one spot, from 23rd to 24th, in the rankings of U.S. medical schools receiving NIH funding. It had moved nine spots up in the NIH rankings, from 32nd to 23rd, from 2003 to 2004.

Dorsa said some of the significant growth in 2003 was made possible by a voter-approved $200 million state investment in OHSU in 2002. That money, among other things, helped the university snare some prized researchers, Dorsa said.

Research grant dollars 'did level off a little bit' in 2005, Dorsa said. But OHSU opened its biomedical research building on Marquam Hill early this year, and a building in the South Waterfront is scheduled to open by late this year with four more floors of offices for OHSU researchers.

That opens up space, and provides a lure, to allow the university to recruit more researchers, Dorsa said.

'The next phase of recruitment will go on, and another cadre of people will be coming on board,' he said.

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