Over the course of the 2017 fiscal year, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine secured $174 million from the National Institutes of Health. This, along with other grants, makes this past year the school’s most highly funded since 2009.
Einstein, which was Yeshiva University’s medical school, could boast many academic and scholarly achievements, but was also allegedly responsible for nearly two-thirds of YU’s deficit woes. As of 2014, the university ceded operational and financial direction of Einstein to Montefiore Medical Center. Montefiore is a network provider of healthcare and medical research, spanning five research centers and five affiliated hospitals. Einstein itself is still affiliated with YU, with YU being responsible for educational oversight, including granting degrees.
The various projects to which the grant money will be allotted include several studies on fighting age-related cognitive impairment. Nutrition scientist Dr. Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani, associate professor in the Epidemiology & Population Health department, received a $4 million grant over five years to study if a diet filled with anti-inflammatory foods, such as nuts, leafy greens and coffee, can ease cognitive diseases, particularly Alzheimer’s.
Drs. Nir Barzilai and Zhengdong Zhang received $6.3 million to further studies on genes that preserve and protect cognitive functions as people age, and to use that information to help develop drugs. Dr. Barzilai, the associate professor of genetics at Einstein, previously headed the school’s Longevity Genes Project, a genetic study of 500 healthy adults over 95 to determine genes that help some elderly people escape the worst of the aging-related diseases. “Aging is the number one risk factor for Alzheimer’s. But there are individuals with extraordinary longevity–95 years or older–who have a natural resistance to dementia,” said Dr. Barzilai of his study. “We hope to unlock the secrets in their genomes to reveal promising targets for drug development.”
The $174 million worth of study grants also cover medical issues such as breast cancer screening, human immunodeficiency virus, and substance abuse. Dr. Chinazo Cunningham, the associate chief of general internal medicine at Einstein’s Department of Medicine, received $3.8 million to research substance abuse. Dr. Cunningham, who is a member of the NYC Mayor’s Heroin and Prescription Opioid Public Awareness Task Force, will study if the use of medicinal marijuana would reduce reliance on opioids for those with chronic pain. Amidst a national health epidemic of opioid abuse, there is urgent need for safer alternative pain relievers, and this will be the first study to consider if medicinal marijuana would be a possible way to treat chronic pain.
“At a time of intense competition for federal research dollars, this high-water mark is a convincing demonstration of the strength of our research faculty–and all the more remarkable given its relatively small size,” said Allen M. Spiegel, M.D., the Stanley and Marilyn M. Katz Dean for Einstein, of the school’s hefty collection of research grants this year. Spiegel also emphasized the role Montefiore has played in the institution’s research success “In addition to our longstanding strength in basic science research, our new relationship with Montefiore has opened up exciting new avenues for more meaningful collaborations that will advance our joint translational and clinical research enterprise.”