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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Mini IT Meeting in La Jolla

The IT leadership for the AIRI Institutes in La Jolla had a unique opportunity to meet with colleagues from Australia this week.

Greg and Stephen (last names excluded by request) from the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) in New South Wales, Australia are visiting a variety of institutions on the West Coast (UCLA, Stanford, and UCSF) to learn how American institutions are addressing research technology needs for their scientists.  They chose to visit La Jolla because of the high concentration of research institutes in our community.

In addition to all the typical IT application development challenges, HMRI needs to address the reality that the scientists that participate in their research programs are actually the employees of affiliated universities or medical delivery organizations.  Some AIRI institutes face similar challenges when we don't "employ" all the scientists (the VA research institutes immediately come to mind).

HMRI and the ~ 50 research institutes in Australia have many similarities to a typical AIRI institute.  But there were key differences as well.  And we found a common vision for our desire to support our researchers. We used those comparisons to set the stage for our discussions.

The La Jolla group included representation from The La Jolla Institute, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Sanford | Burnham | Prebys Discovery Institute, and The Scripps Research Institute.  The discussions proved useful to all the participants as we discussed broad goals, data collection challenges, security protocols, underlying technology platforms, development vs buy decisions, vendors, and managing delivery expectations.

I want to personally thank each of the participants for their time, energy, thoughts, and creativity:

Pictured from left to right:  Jim Berry, Brant Kelley, and Greg Benjamin (all 3 from Scripps), Greg (HMRI), Michael Scarpelli (LJI), Stephen (HMRI), and Frank Dwyer (Salk).  Participating but not pictured were JC Ducom (Scripps), John Stillwagen (LJI), and Eric Hicks (SBPD).

The HMRI team was intrigued by the concept of the biannual AIRI IT meetings.  Unfortunately, the timing of their visit precludes them joining us in Oklahoma City next month! They expressed the desire to duplicate this sort of collaborative participation among the Australian research institutes based on the AIRI model.

The HMRI team has promised to continue the discussions with us as they finish their tour of American universities and as they map their plans for comprehensive research supporting tools.  We all look forward to continuing these discussions.

Friday, March 11, 2016

AIRI Graduate Program Survey

AIRI institutions with graduate students face issues that are often dissimilar to those of large universities.  AIRI is now attempting to identify and measure those differences.

In collaboration with the educational programs office of The Scripps Research Institute, I have been promoting a survey that will provide AIRI institutions with benchmark graduate program data.  Gathering relevant benchmark data while creating a resource for AIRI members with graduate students is the impetus for launching this initiative. I am happy to bring this to our AIRI members through my collaborations with the Scripps Graduate Program.

Participation is free and a complementary summary analysis will be provided to all AIRI members who participate in the survey.

I invite you to participate in the first AIRI Graduate Program Survey at:


Cary Thomas

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

AIRI Government Affairs Committee in Action

(The material in this article was first presented in the AIRI Weekly Washington Report; it is reproduced here for wider distribution.  Special thanks to Lewis-Burke Associates for this excellent reporting!)

On February 24 and 25, the AIRI Government Affairs Committee (GAC) met in Washington, DC, to discuss AIRI’s 2016 advocacy agenda and to meet with congressional staff and National Institutes of Health (NIH) leadership.  During the February 24 meeting, GAC members reviewed federal priorities and formally approved AIRI’s support for the community’s recommendation of $34.5 billion for NIH in fiscal year (FY) 2017 (see February 19 AIRI Weekly Washington Report).

On February 25, GAC members met with Senate appropriations staff who help draft the NIH funding bill to discuss the community’s $34.5 billion recommendation.  They also met with staff who are working on the Senate medical innovation bills to discuss AIRI’s support for provisions that would reduce administrative burden.  The staff asked for specific examples of how administration burden impedes research progress.  AIRI members are urged to send their examples to the AIRI Washington Office to be shared with Senate staff.

GAC members also met with Michael Lauer, NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, and Michelle Bulls, Director of the NIH Office of Policy for Extramural Research, to discuss AIRI’s concerns with the use of total costs in award budgets and the importance of salary support to independent research institutes (IRI).   

AIRI GAC members at NIH Building One: Hans-Erik G. Aronson, Cheryl Moore, David Cabrerra, Tim Geary, and Cary Thomas

The latter issue was also discussed during meetings with Matthew Fenton, director of extramural research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and Jon Lorsch, director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS).  GAC members also shared the unique contributions of IRIs to these institutes’ missions as part of efforts to elevate AIRI’s profile among the 27 institutes and centers at NIH.    

AIRI Welcomes San Diego Biomedical Research Institute

AIRI is pleased to announce the addition of another new member to the AIRI Community – the San Diego Biomedical Research Institute (SDBRI).  This addition is the fifth since October 2015, the fastest pace of new AIRI Institute additions in decades.  SDBRI is also joining the robust research programs on the Torrey Pines Mesa, a place that six other AIRI Institutes call home (The La Jolla Institute, The J. Craig Venter Institute, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Sanford | Burnham | Prebys Discovery Institute, The Scripps Research Institute, and the Veterans Medical Research Foundation).    

Led by Dr. Joanna Davies, President and CEO, SDBRI was founded in 2013.  She and the institute’s scientific team chose the Torrey Pines area because “it is one of the largest and most concentrated centers of science, engineering, and medicine in the U.S.  It is an ideal setting that fosters cooperative partnerships, intellectual exchange, and shared resources.”   According to Dr. Davies, “The collaborations we can create here are perhaps the very best in the world.  In addition to the first-rate research institutes and the world-class University of California, San Diego, we have scores of pharmaceutical companies of all sizes and scales, and three vibrant health-care systems.  Torrey Pines is a biomedical researcher’s dream!”

SDBRI conducts fundamental biomedical research, primarily funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), to better understand human disease and generate information that can contribute to the treatment and prevention of diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and associated chronic conditions.  In addition to basic research, the Institute routinely provides technical guidance, hands-on training, data and other research-related information, and materials to investigators at other organizations.

SDBRI is dedicated to predict, prevent and alleviate chronic diseases by accelerating medical advances through basic research, science education and community partnerships.

  • Conducts studies to prevent onset and progression of HIV/AIDS, diabetes, metastatic cancer and cachexia (skeletal muscle wasting) to improve and extend quality of life.
  • Creates an environment where scientists freely engage in collaborative research to identify and target common pathways that lead to advanced disease.
  • Engages the public with the Institute’s activities to excite scientific inquiry and identify health problems relevant to the community.
  • Fosters public and private relationships to diversify support for chronic disease research.

Please join us in welcoming SDBRI into the AIRI Community.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

RTI International -- Newest AIRI Institute

AIRI keeps growing and our most recent membership addition is a truly global leader!  With its roots in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina beginning in 1959, RTI International now has programs that literally span the globe. 

RTI International is one of the world’s leading research institutes, dedicated to improving the human condition by turning knowledge into practice. The staff of more than 3,700 provides research and technical services to governments and businesses in more than 75 countries in the areas of health and pharmaceuticals, education and training, surveys and statistics, advanced technology, international development, economic and social policy, energy and the environment, and laboratory testing and chemical analysis. 

For a research institute like RTI, the measure of its value is its people. Their expert research and technical staff come to work every day—to the office, to the bench, to field sites around the world—to study complex problems, craft solutions, scale up innovative programs, and evaluate outcomes. Owing to their expert knowledge, innovative spirit, and passionate dedication, FY2015 was their best year to date.

Some of this year’s accomplishments in areas of critical need included delivering research results and science-based programs to combat childhood obesity in the United States, enhancing the energy efficiency of U.S. Army installations, understanding global tobacco use, bolstering education in Indonesia, and strengthening governance in Uganda, to name only a few.

RTI’s activities both mirror and support national priorities and policies as well as diverse commercial, industrial, and academic endeavors. For instance, as public and government interest in environmental protection grew in the 1960s, so did related programs at RTI, building on expertise in statistical, physical, and life sciences.

As their mission affirms, RTI is dedicated to improving the human condition by turning knowledge into practice through cutting-edge study and analysis in health and pharmaceuticals, education and training, surveys and statistics, advanced technology, international development, economic and social policy, energy and the environment, and laboratory and chemistry services.

RTI is proud of its scientific stature and reputation for innovation. By continuing to conduct impartial, reliable, multidisciplinary research and by helping to develop and broker new technologies for our clients, RTI seeks to be the world's preferred resource for turning knowledge into practice.

The AIRI membership is clearly enhanced with the addition of RTI International to our growing ranks!