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November 2008 Issue

Marsha Wills-Karp, PhD.
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Researcher Takes Aim at UC's Strategic Goals

Published November 2008

From her fifth-floor office window in Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) S Building, Marsha Wills-Karp, PhD, has a commanding view of the UC College of Medicine campus.

That’s nice, but in Wills-Karp’s case, vision trumps view.

She’ll need an abundance of vision in her assignment as associate dean for basic sciences and special projects at the College of Medicine.

Her directive from David Stern, MD, dean of the College of Medicine and vice president for health affairs, who named her to the post in April, includes playing an essential role in shaping the college’s Centers of Excellence.

The award-winning immunobiology researcher’s efforts will align with the College of Medicine’s strategic plan, which lists four Centers of Excellence: cancer, cardiovascular, neuroscience and metabolic disorders.

All four, Wills-Karp says, represent opportunities for collaboration between UC and Cincinnati Children’s and breaking down boundaries that can hinder medical discoveries.

“I think the difference between a center and a department is that a center brings together an interdisciplinary team, with talent in different areas that can contribute to one focused area,” she says. “With members of a department, there might be some diversity in their interests but they’re all focused on a traditional stem discipline. The center allows you to go beyond these boundaries and bring in people of different expertise.”

Wills-Karp’s efforts so far have involved identifying needs and setting up management structures. In the case of all four centers, reorganizations are being investigated with an eye toward improving effectiveness and maintaining the College of Medicine’s crucial role in meeting the formidable challenges in both clinical and research efforts.

“So this is an effort to expand in those areas and promote their growth, particularly at a time when resources are scarce and we can’t just build everything simultaneously,” Wills-Karp says.

A combination of factors influenced selection of the centers, including national trends and local strengths.

“Obviously, these are areas that are going to be important in the future especially in terms of the changing demographics of the population, and the types of diseases that are going to present challenges— particularly with an aging population,” Wills-Karp says.

“However, the strengths that we have within the institution were a major factor in selection of the focus of these centers.”

Having successfully led centers of immunological research and microbial pathogensis at Cincinnati Children’s, Wills-Karp was a logical choice to shape the College of Medicine’s Centers of Excellence.

A native of Austin, Texas, who was recruited to Cincinnati from Johns Hopkins University in 2000, Wills-Karp serves as professor of pediatrics at UC and director of the division of immunobiology at Cincinnati Children’s.

She is also director of the immunobiology graduate program at UC. With research focused on allergies and asthma, her group was among the first to identify that T cells were a major driver of the allergic response in asthma. It also identified IL-13, one of the major mediators of the disease, and published those findings in Science.

She and her husband, Christopher Karp, MD, direct the immunology research efforts at CCHMC.

“We work well together; our strengths complement each other,” Wills-Karp says. She feels the same way, of course, about Cincinnati Children’s and the College of Medicine.

“These Centers of Excellence are areas that we plan to excel in and have a national and international reputation in,” she says. “It’s an opportunity for us to leverage our strengths and push the boundaries forward in health care delivery and research.”

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