Going Global With Research and Funding

Research administrative fellow Krisztina Dlugosz (right) with her mentor, Felicia Mayes, research operations manager for Neurosurgery, Neurology and Psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai.

Biomedical research has gone global, with multinational teams cooperating on large-scale studies. Funding, too, is going global. With those trends in mind, Cedars-Sinai is partnering with European institutions on research projects and grants.

"Better healthcare requires collaborations that transcend countries," said Sandor Vari, MD, who directs Cedars-Sinai's International Research and Innovation in Medicine Program. "Worldwide problems take worldwide approaches, and Cedars-Sinai also seeks to increase its impact on the health of the world community."

Cedars-Sinai has spent a dozen years building a research consortium that includes Central and Eastern Europe. Known as the Regional Cooperation for Health, Science and Technology (RECOOP HST) Association, it embraces, besides Cedars-Sinai, 15 higher education, healthcare and research organizations in eight countries: Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic and Ukraine.

"RECOOP provides the opportunity for development of diverse talents, all geared toward integration of new knowledge derived from multiple specialties in different countries," said Vari, the association's president. "In particular, it exploits this wonderful window for pursuing multicenter translational and clinical research studies."

Among the issues that RECOOP investigators tackle are disorders related to nutrition and lifestyle, such as prenatal health issues and their effect on child health; obesity; and metabolic, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases in men and women.

Through RECOOP, Cedars-Sinai's researchers can achieve a deeper understanding of the cultures and perspectives of Europe's scientific community, Vari said. In exchange, Cedars-Sinai is teaching its European partners about American-style grantsmanship.

The program's first research administrative fellow, Krisztina Dlugosz, a project assistant at the widely respected University of Pécs in Vari's native Hungary, arrived at Cedars-Sinai in May for a six-month fellowship. Her mentor is Felicia Mayes, research operations manager for Neurosurgery, Neurology and Psychiatry.

Dlugosz is learning how to apply for National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding. This is a critical skill for international projects such as RECOOP's, in which foreign institutions may take the lead and U.S. institutions act as subcontractors. "With globalization, NIH involvement in grants to foreign scientists is growing very steadily," Vari explained.

So far, grant applications are just getting under way at RECOOP, and a handful of Cedars-Sinai researchers are working with the organization. "We have to monitor the NIH grant opportunities constantly to find the right grant programs to support our main research goal — to investigate the common mechanisms of diseases," Vari said. "Moreover, we have to overcome the reality that most scientists are self-directed, and they desire to make discoveries independently."

Meanwhile, RECOOP serves to raise Cedars-Sinai's profile abroad, and participants are enthusiastic. "I've benefited from it, and so has Cedars-Sinai," said Calvin J. Hobel, MD, a clinician-researcher in the Cedars-Sinai Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology who studies preterm births, which affect about 10 percent of the world's babies. He has long partnered with colleague Chander Arora, PhD, who is RECOOP's research project advisor and works with scientists from six Central and Eastern European countries.

"We have to have a global approach to preterm birth prevention to see what works, where and how," said Hobel, founder of the not-for-profit Preterm Birth International Collaborative Inc., which focuses on this issue. "You need large numbers to do studies like this. And there is exceptional basic science in Central and Eastern Europe."

For her part, the affable, hard-working intern Dlugosz said she looks forward to teaching her Hungarian colleagues what she learns here. "I am going to be the only one who knows how to apply for an NIH grant," she said, and then added with a smile: "I am going to be a star."

To learn more about the organization, email Vari at sandor.vari@cshs.org.