IU to hire 40 faculty, spend up to $120M on new initiative

Indiana University plans to hire 40 new full-time faculty members and spend as much as $120 million on a new, ambitious initiative focused at understanding the factors that contribute to an individual’s health and curing diseases that are now untreatable.

The university announced Monday that the “precision health initiative” will seek to cure at least one cancer and one childhood disease, as well as find ways to prevent one chronic illness and one neurodegenerative disease.

The money will be awarded from IU’s Grand Challenges Program, a new push that is designed to tackle “major and large-scale problems facing humanity” that can only be addressed by multidisciplinary research teams.

The university calls the program, which will provide $300 million in funding over the next five years for up to five initiatives, the most significant investment in IU’s research infrastructure ever.

The precision health initiative will bring together experts from the IU School of Medicine, IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences, School of Informatics and Computing, Fairbanks School of Public Health, Kelley School of Business and School of Nursing.

IU will also bring in outside partners from Eli Lilly and Co., Roche Diagnostics, Cook Regentec, Deloitte, Regenstrief Institute and IU Health.

“This initiative will put IU’s extensive breadth and leadership of large-scale research, discovery and innovation to work for the people of our state,” said IU President Michael A. McRobbie in a written statement.

Through the investment, IU said it will hire 40 new faculty members across the university, including 22 in the School of Medicine, nine at the IU-Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences, five at the School of Informatics and Computing, and one each at Fairbanks School of Public Health, Kelly School of Business and the IU School of Nursing.

It will also bring together 24 new postdoctoral fellows and 31 graduate students to research genomic medicine, cell, gene and immune therapies, chemical biotherapeutics and bioinformatics.

New laboratories will help researchers as they try to make advances in the treatment and prevention of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, kidney disease and rare pediatric diseases.

IU adopted the Grand Challenges Program last year to identify major challenges where the university had the greatest potential to make serious contributions to big problems. It called for proposals to be considered for funding.

The university received 21 proposals from teams involving more than 400 faculty on six campuses.

The finalists were proposals to study health equity, ecosystems, sustainable water resources and environmental protection.

The winning proposal, to study precision health, will incorporate five research clusters across the university to focus on genomic medicine; cell, gene and immunity therapy; chemical biology and bioterapeutics; data and informatics sciences; and psychosocial, behavior and ethics.

“Precision health and person-centered approaches to patient care will be the next paradigm shift for health care delivery, and likely the dominant new forces in training the next generation of graduates from health sciences schools,” said Anantha Shekhar, IU associate vice president for clinical affairs, in written remarks.

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