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Joint Recruitment Strengthens Collaboration Between Basic and Clinical Departments

Thursday, April 03, 2014

 Michal Zalzman, PhD

The School of Medicine has a tradition of interdepartmental collaboration that will be magnified even further through ACCEL-Med initiatives. For example, two years ago, Richard Eckert, PhD, Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Scott Strome, MD, Chair of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, began a partnership to yield new insights and treatments for cancers of the head, neck, skin and mouth. Recognizing that the best way to advance their project was to have a faculty member whose research interests fit the missions of both departments, Drs. Eckert and Strome jointly recruited Michal Zalzman, PhD, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2012.

Dr. Strome first identified Dr. Zalzman as an excellent candidate for the joint appointment when his group collaborated with her on a cancer-related project. “Michal’s talent and potential to become an incredible senior investigator shone through while she was still a postdoctoral fellow at the NIH, and immediately I knew that we could greatly benefit from having her as a permanent member of our team,” says Dr. Strome.

During her tenure at NIH, Dr. Zalzman studied a gene called Zscan4, which appears to regulate survival of stem cells and could play a major role in the prolonged life of cancer cells. “Her expertise in stem-cell research, and the implications that her work has for cancer biology, made her an outstanding prospective faculty member who could straddle the basic science work with clinical studies,” says Dr. Eckert.

Dr. Zalzman’s primary appointment is in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, with a secondary appointment in Otorhinolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery. Both departments contribute in unique and important ways to her development: Biochemistry & Molecular Biology provides a basic science environment and mentoring, and Otorhinolaryngology provides a venue for studying important clinically relevant issues and providing fundamental insights into disease. Her appointment also has further strengthened the partnership between the two departments, which now have regular meetings to help foster additional collaborations that could lead to new arenas for grant submission.

“Building these types of basic and clinical investigative teams will lead to new science, hopefully new treatments, and may generate new sources of financing,” says Dr. Strome. “This is a major mission of ACCEL-Med, and we hope that our success story encourages others to consider working with their colleagues across departments in the future.”

Another bonus of the joint recruitment is that it has increased the rapport between the two department chairs. Comments Dr. Eckert, “Dr. Strome and I have developed a strong friendship and working relationship as we look to develop and expand this effort. We have a lot of fun doing this!”

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