VCU innovators talk cancer, kids and collaboration for Make It Real campaign

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Following a silent phase, Virginia Commonwealth University has revealed the intricacies of its most aggressive fundraising effort, the $750 million Make It Real Campaign for VCU. Funding from the campaign will impact every facet of the university, officials said, including the campus’ centers, libraries, athletics and research. 

In a question and answer dialogue Friday led by Marsha Rappley, M.D., vice president for health sciences and CEO of the VCU Health System, university thought leaders delved into the hands-on work being done by a caliber of clinicians and researchers, whose initiatives represent innovation in their respective fields. The hourlong chat was an opportunity for the university community to ask questions about how funding will undergird the building of structures and strategies throughout the campus.

Rappley said the university is serious and purposeful in its effort to be frontrunners through innovation.

“You don’t have to convince anyone in this place about the value of research,” she said. "There are many stars in our galaxy here at VCU."

One such glimmer is the new Children’s Pavilion at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, which opened earlier this year. It is a $200 million, 640,000-square-foot facility built with the premise of providing services, “from the child back,” said Leslie G. Wyatt, senior vice president of children’s services and executive director of CHoR, who was among the event’s panelists.

You don’t have to convince anyone in this place about the value of research.

“We thought, ‘why can’t we build something that lets everyone be in the same place?’ That means moms have to make fewer visits,” Wyatt said, adding that social workers, nurses and psychologists all have a space in the building to serve children. Having the gamut of a child’s outpatient medical team in one place alleviates much of the travel hassle for family members.

“We reached out to the community partners [for input] so that we were looking at it from all perspectives. It’s remarkable how the pavilion has promoted collaboration at the beside and at the office,” Wyatt said. “We really had to think bigger than we had ever thought.”

The event’s other panelists were Steven Grossman, M.D., Ph.D., deputy director of Massey Cancer Center and chair of the Division of Hematology, Oncology and Palliative Care at the School of Medicine, and Alpha A. “Berry” Fowler III, M.D., professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine in the VCU School of Medicine. Both detailed groundbreaking research that will curtail the impact of common maladies such as cancer and sepsis.  

Massey is currently researching triple-negative breast cancer, which has one of the least favorable survival rates among all cancers. The cancer center is conducting a clinical trial that is testing a new therapy for women with this disease, and it is anticipated that up to 35 patients will participate in the study. 

Grossman said an environment conducive to teamwork is as important as the research itself. 

“There can be a canyon between laboratory scientists and the doctors who provide the care, but you can’t do it without a team of people who talk to each other,” he said. “We've developed a sophisticated process. We’re not an ivory tower. We’re given the resources and the space.”

The campaign will continue through June 30, 2020. In particular, it will foster growth in three primary areas — people, innovations and environments. Every school and unit within the university has established a campaign goal.


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