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Opinion: Mizzou’s historic research push may save your life

The University of Missouri recently celebrated the grand opening of the Roy Blunt NextGen Precision Health building on our flagship campus in Columbia. The NextGen Precision Health initiative is the university’s number one strategic priority, and this building anchors the most ambitious research push in our 182-year history. The opening was a great success and was attended by university leaders, elected representatives, and even Dr. Francis Collins in one of his last public appearances as director of the National Institutes of Health.

UM System President Mun Choi

The overwhelming show of support from national scientific leaders demonstrates just how big a deal NextGen is for our state now and in the future. It’s a hub for groundbreaking research that, though located in Columbia, has connections within and throughout all parts of Missouri and the Midwest. This is science that will save your life.

There are so many reasons to be excited about NextGen, but I want to share two key ways this building and our new investment and approach to research and student success, known as MizzouForward, will impact all Missourians.

NextGen is for everyone

NextGen researchers are tasked with addressing some of the most pressing health care challenges facing Missourians, including cancer, neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and diabetes. NextGen discoveries will speed up lifesaving advances and help more people live longer, healthier lives.

For example, among the research teams is a group addressing Missouri’s high rate of substance-use disorders. According to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 377,000 Missourians had a substance-use disorder in 2018-19. That’s an astounding number of our neighbors who are struggling to break cycles of addiction.

To address this persistent challenge, Dr. Brett Froeliger, professor and director of the NextGen Cognitive Neuroscience Systems core facility, and his addiction treatment team will use NextGen to develop better ways to tackle substance-use disorders. Using advanced imaging technology, they’re looking to understand the physiology of addiction and provide more options for recovery. Some of the imaging technology available to research teams, including the Siemens Healthineers MAGNETOM Terra 7-Tesla MRI, are found nowhere else in Missouri.

The goal of NextGen is to help accelerate discoveries, like those made by Dr. Carolyn Anderson and Dr. J. David Robertson for radiopharmaceutical lab research at the MU Research Reactor — offering more clinical treatments and hope to more people in Missouri and beyond. Each week, 14,500 doses of critical radiopharmaceutical ingredients for cancer drugs are sent from the reactor and delivered to hospitals throughout the Western Hemisphere. To further speed up the process for developing new radiopharmaceuticals, NextGen has designated manufacturing clean rooms. Our researchers are considering all parts of the innovation process — from the initial discovery to large-scale distribution.

The economic impact of precision health

Our first priority is saving lives in Missouri and beyond. To make that kind of progress, we’ve developed crucial partnerships with industry leaders such as Siemens Healthineers and Thermo Fisher Scientific. These partnerships give us access to tools that supercharge innovation and attract top talent who are eager to use our facility to further their own research.

The result is a facility that not only draws world-class researchers but also becomes a hub of biomedical innovation for the Midwest and the country. An economic impact report estimated that over the next 25 years, NextGen could contribute $5.6 billion to the state’s economy. You can expect more jobs in high-demand industries and even more industry partners who are drawn to Missouri and ready to invest in our ongoing research excellence.

What’s next

NextGen is also a central part of our recently announced MizzouForward initiative, which will use existing and new resources to recruit approximately 150 new tenure and tenure-track faculty, enhance staff to support our research mission, build and upgrade research facilities and instruments, augment support for student academic success, and retain faculty and staff through additional salary support. MizzouForward will be an approximately $1.5 billion investment over the next decade in our research and education missions as well as the health and future of our state.

Now that the Roy Blunt NextGen Precision Health building is open and our first wave of researchers has moved in, the crucial pieces are in place to transform the work of our universities and the well-being of so many across Missouri.

Sooner than you imagine, NextGen will be making a difference in your life, too.

MU opens Roy Blunt NextGen Precision Health building