University of South Florida

Boost your interdisciplinary research opportunities

We have been talking a lot about interdisciplinary research at the Morsani College of Medicine and USF Health recently, so I want to share some interesting nuances to the concept with our community.

Not long ago departments were formed based on different disciplines.  It is quite clear today, though, that few boundaries exist between these arbitrary designations of disciplines. We all carry out experiments involving pharmacology, molecular biology, cell biology, anatomy, physiology, etc.  So using this old terminology, most of us are in fact conducting interdisciplinary research already.

A different concept involves extracting information and expertise from, and collaborating with, another laboratory that may be studying something completely different but has a component specifically involved in your own research.  I recently enjoyed this interdisciplinary line of research, which bridged my efforts in pulmonary biology and those of another lab studying Alzheimer’s disease.  The link was not based on the two diseases, but some common pathways that have unexpectedly emerged.

The best way to know what is happening in our research community is to attend seminars, thesis defenses, lab meetings, chalk-talks, grand rounds, and other forums not necessarily in your usual interest area.  There is really no substitute.  While this newsletter tries to keep the community informed about what we are all doing, some of our best work is preliminary, and is not seen as a grant or a publication until much later.

Another level of interdisciplinary research involves groups where collaboration across a traditional boundary is an absolute necessity.  This is particularly so in translational research where true collaboration, and learning from each other, takes place between basic and clinical scientists.  It is my sense that we have not taken full advantage of this opportunity here at the MCOM or within USF Health.

To help in this process, our office will create a searchable database of funded grants (including the proposal’s full text) and key words, which can be used by faculty members to find where expertise may exist as they consider interdisciplinary research ideas.  We will also extract elements from ongoing clinical trials.  In addition, I would like to include reviewer comments for revised NIH submissions, so that investigators can see the format and style that others have used to successfully attain funding.

Finally, departments need to make sure their webpages are up to date.  I have seen many CVs that are five years behind, and this does not help to foster collaboration.

I am happy to report that we have completed implementation of the i2b2 system in the MCOM.  Historically, there has been no user-friendly method to ascertain potential study cohorts from the electronic medical record (EMR).  Extracting data from Allscripts and Epic, i2b2 provides methods to analyze potential associations and to identify specific patient populations.  In addition, we propose to tie our i2b2 system to another network that communicates with other health care systems.  This feature will provide a mechanism for investigators to collaborate with other institutions.

In a single recent session, I was able to identify our patients with heart failure and atrial fibrillation who did not have coronary artery disease or hypertension.  It is an intuitive interface, which I hope will lead to additional interdisciplinary research “of the third kind.”


Stephen Liggett, MD
Vice Dean for Research
Professor of Medicine, Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology
USF Health Morsani College of Medicine
Co-director, USF Health Heart Institute

Stephen Liggett_2015_Preferred_headshot

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