A&Spire to Illuminate Signature Academic Initiatives

HEALTH

Cancer Collaborative

Better screening and early detection methods have led to improvements in patient outcomes; however, with new therapeutics and precision treatments, such as small-molecule therapeutics and tumor-specific targeting strategies now on the horizon, Baylor University is positioned with its faculty, staff, students, and facilities to contribute to this important area of health research.

Currently, the College of Arts & Sciences has 10 to 12 faculty working in this broadly defined area of research with the goal to deepen their reach with larger collaborative teams through future faculty hiring. Arts & Sciences faculty will continue to strengthen their current collaborations with faculty in the School of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) and the College of Health and Human Sciences (HHS); with scientists and physicians from Baylor Scott and White Healthcare, the Baylor College of Medicine, the Central Texas Veterans Healthcare Administration, UT Southwestern Medical Center, UT Health Science Center in Houston, MD Anderson Cancer Center, St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Columbia University School of Medicine; and with partners in private industry.

The envisioned Cancer Collaborative of the College of Arts & Sciences joins the Health Signature Academic Initiative in Illuminate in the areas of Environmental Determinants, Biomedical Research, and Undergraduate Health and Medical Education. This initiative will encompass five working groups: Lead Compound Generation, Fundamental Bioscience, Biomarker Discovery, Biological Evaluation, and Bioinformatics. Arts & Sciences will provide the faculty who are hired as part of the Cancer Collaborative with research space in the Baylor Sciences Building.

The infrastructure component of this initiative will allow Arts & Sciences to hire a full-time histotechnologist and thus eliminate duplication of histological capabilities that exist now within individual faculty research laboratories. Consistent and reliable histological research is critical to providing structural and quantitative data that supports the application of animal models in cancer research.

A transmission electron microscope (TEM), a mainstream tool for this kind of research, is not currently available in the Center for Microscopy and Imaging (CMI). Updated TEM instrumentation will benefit the research of faculty in the departments of Biology, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Environmental Science, Family and Consumer Sciences, Mechanical Engineering, and Physics.

Funding for this initiative will provide endowed chairs, endowed professorships, postdoctoral fellowships, graduate fellowships, and specialized research equipment. Within the next five years the Cancer Collaborative aims to double the number of Baylor faculty focused on cancer research, primarily in the Department of Biology and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, including joint appointments. For hiring senior level faculty, we will employ the Cancer Preventative Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) program to bring research leaders in the field to Baylor. These new faculty represent the resources necessary to attract and retain other top faculty, assist in student recruiting and mentoring both undergraduate and graduate students, and bring scholarly prestige and financial stability to the program.

 Goal 1: Implement the Cancer Collaborative.

Action Steps

1.1    Seek funding opportunities to endow the Cancer Collaborative or to endow components of it through endowed chairs by using the University match program.

1.2    Seek University support to expand the program incrementally through new faculty and staff lines, including startup and facilities costs.

1.3     Depending on the success of the program, consider the formation of a Center that includes an administrative structure.

Global Health Initiative

Clean water, safe food, and healthy communities are basic human rights that tend to be taken for granted in developed countries. However, rapid population growth, urbanization, and differential delivery of essential health services present urgent challenges within the United States and beyond. The population density in urban areas results in high consumption levels of water, food, and energy that in turn lead to a concentration of chemical use and other potential threats for human populations and ecosystems. It is not surprising that advancing integrated environment and health is critical to understanding the social determinants of health. Such understanding will promote socioeconomic development and thereby reduce poverty, increase peace, and improve health outcomes.

Baylor is well positioned to initiate a significant integrated global environment and health effort, as described in Illuminate. This initiative involves a cohort of Arts & Sciences faculty in the departments of Anthropology, Biology, Environmental Science, and Geosciences, to name a few. These faculty lead the Global Horizon Scanning Project, which engages scientists and engineers across many of these disciplines, sectors and geographic regions, including Brazil and the United Kingdom. Baylor also leads the Understanding Needs, Challenges, Opportunities, Vision and Emerging Roles in Environmental Health Initiative (UNCOVER-EH) sponsored by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that engages environmental health professionals in state, local, tribal, and territorial levels of government across the United States. UNCOVER-EH exists to identify both the immediate and near-term challenges and to allocate strategic resources to alleviate health disparities in local communities.

Creating a Center for Integrative Global Environment and Health Research (InGEHR) will facilitate Baylor’s efforts to advance international education and research engagements at the intersection of global environment and health. InGEHR promises to catalyze development of transdisciplinary research teams, visiting scientist opportunities, and graduate education exchanges. InGEHR will complement existing roles at Baylor University by filling niches not currently available, and engaging with faculty and students across departments, colleges and schools; with Baylor Missions and CGE; and with scholars, donors, influencers and decision makers from off campus. Further, InGEHR will deliver training to professionals regionally, nationally, and internationally.

To augment the current cohort of Arts & Sciences faculty members in the Departments of Anthropology, Biology, Environmental Science, and Sociology currently pursuing research at the environment and health interface, funding for this initiative will provide endowed chairs and endowed professorships, as well as postdoctoral fellowships and graduate fellowships. 

 Goal 1: Implement the Global Health Initiative.

Action Steps

1.1    Seek funding opportunities to endow the initiative or to endow components of it through endowed chairs by using the University match program.

1.2     Seek University support to expand the program incrementally through faculty and staff lines, including startup and facilities costs.

1.3    Depending on the success of the program, consider the formation of a Center that includes an administrative structure.

Brain, Behavioral, and Mental Health Initiative

Contemporary healthcare is inexorably tied to behavior: diet, sleep, exercise, addiction, stress and pain management are profoundly behavioral. Existing faculty in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience conduct world-class research in such areas as sleep, addiction, mind and body integrative health, neurodegenerative disorders/dementia, affective disorders, anxiety, stress and stress-related disorders, and developmental health. We propose a long-range plan of deliberate growth in these research areas, leading to substantial increases in external funding, as well as in the number of doctoral students produced. In addition, we propose a specific research project, the Baylor Longitudinal Health Study, to facilitate research among all of our faculty partners. This study aims to recruit 1,000 healthy community adults (ages 25-70) and to follow them over the lifespan with repeated assessments. These participants will serve as a cohort themselves for examining the bidirectional effects of aging and various health, psychological, and neurological factors. The cohort will also serve as a control group for other studies in the Initiative.

An Initiative for Brain, Behavioral, and Mental Health will provide the infrastructure necessary for continuing research excellence and augmenting future growth. An emerging field called “Health Neuroscience '' fits this component of this strategic plan and dovetails perfectly with our ambition to launch Baylor University to R1 status. This interdisciplinary field takes a brain-based view of physical and mental health, examining bidirectional relationships between health and the brain across the lifespan. 

The brain is at the center of mental health and illness; that much is intuitive. However, the brain also reciprocally affects the human experience of physical illnesses, such as cardiovascular health, metabolic disease, chronic pain, and many other health conditions, which cyclically impact brain and mental health.  Major federal funding agencies recognize this. For example, a number of National Institutes of Health (NIH) branches all fund research in this area, including the National Cancer Institute; the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; the National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke; the National Institute for Drug Abuse; the National Institute for Mental Health; and a cross-cutting neuroscience program, NIH’s BRAIN Initiative.

Goal 1: Implement the Brain, Behavioral and Mental Health Initiative.

 Action Steps

1.1     Seek funding opportunities to endow the initiative or to endow components of it through endowed chairs by using the University match program.

1.2     Seek University support to expand the program incrementally through faculty and staff lines, including startup and facilities costs.

1.3     Depending on the success of the program, consider the formation of a Center that includes an administrative structure.