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Medical Campus hosts inaugural reception

President urges greater collaboration between schools

“Wow,” a smiling BU President Robert Brown said as he donned a physician’s white lab coat bearing the

Boston

Medical

Center logo. “Now I feel official!”

Brown left the Charles River Campus Thursday afternoon for a reception at the Medical Campus marking his inauguration this week as the University’s 10th president, where he accepted from Karen Antman, dean of the

School of

Medicine and provost of the Medical Campus, the traditional symbol given visiting colleagues. For the next hour, the president answered thoughtful questions from an auditorium packed with more than 200 faculty, staff, and students from the Schools of Medicine, Dental Medicine, and Public Health — and rhetorically eliminated the 2.3-mile distance between the two campuses.

“The thing to me that is so compelling is the diversity and breadth of this University,” Brown told the appreciative audience. “This is not an ivory tower. BU is as engaged with its surroundings as any university in the United States or

Europe … and the medical school and campus is a key to that.”

Located in the city’s South End, the Medical Campus includes, besides the School of Medicine, the Goldman School of Dental Medicine, and the School of Public Health, 17 research centers and institutes, Boston Medical Center (the teaching hospital affiliated with BU), and BioSquare, a 16-acre biomedical research park, where the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL), a new federally funded Level-4 biosafety lab, is being built.

The recurring theme of Brown’s talk was the potential for scientific collaborations between the two campuses. Acknowledging that the financing of medical research differs significantly between the two campuses (the National Institutes of Health funds 80 percent of Medical Campus research, but just 25 percent of research at the Charles River Campus), he said joint efforts should be encouraged.

 Brown also urged both campuses to share their “best practices” in targeting and securing federal research grants, particularly since the post–World War II covenant that the federal government would cover “the true cost of research” has failed to keep up with costs.  “The money is where the money is,” Brown said. “There’s no easy answer [to securing more] other than continue to lobby the government.”

The president applauded the potential for BU in the emerging realm of “systems biology,” a discipline that marries the tools of engineering and math with medical applications. “We would need a porous boundary” that would allow researchers from both campuses to readily work together, he said, “but those dealing with such complexity are going to lead life sciences in the future.”

A prime example for collaborative research, Brown said, will be the work on emerging infectious diseases that will be done at NEIDL. “I think we have a fabulous opportunity to leapfrog forward because of these collaborations,” he said. “What was started as a hole in the ground will lead to discoveries to help mankind.”

Brown said his enthusiasm for more intra-campus collaboration stems from his long experience as provost at MIT. “I spent much of my career as a provost, trying to get people to work together,” he said, adding with a grin, “and I actually like it.”

The president’s new colleagues at the Medical Campus seemed to like him as well.

“President Brown’s very appearance at the Medical Campus, his strong support of closer ties between the Medical and Charles River campuses, and his description of a shared mission and vision for both campuses resonated with the audience,” said Jerome Brody, a MED professor and director of the Pulmonary Center at the School of Medicine. “It was an impressive commitment to solidarity.”