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Sunday, 15 September 2013 22:00

Q&A: Dr. Marsha Rappley

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Dr. Marsha Rappley Dr. Marsha Rappley COURTESY PHOTO

As dean of the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine since 2006, Marsha Rappley has seen the school continue to build its presence in Grand Rapids, including the Secchia Center on the Medical Mile. Now, the university is in the planning process to continue that expansion with more biomedical research space it intends to build on the former Grand Rapids Press property it purchased last year. Rappley spoke with MiBiz to discuss the school’s next phase of development.

Since becoming dean of the college, how have you seen the community change and what is your take on the medical cluster developing on this side of the state?

This entire community has grown by leaps and bounds and becomes more vibrant every day. It’s become a big selling point when we bring in investigators to see our facilities. Industry support and vibrancy like this isn’t as apparent everywhere like it is here.

How does the announcement of a new facility increase the college’s competitiveness in the region?

I think that everything we’ve done in terms of establishing a headquarters here in Grand Rapids and expanding our research portfolio, adding our new Secchia Center building and promoting the internationally renowned work that our researchers are doing, that has really brought us into wanting very much to be a part of a vibrant intellectual atmosphere of medical education. Many of these students we want to attract have the opportunity to go all around the country, so we definitely want to provide that.

What needs to be invested into the next phase of development at the former Press building and the adjacent parking lots?

(The investment) is still open-ended and will depend on the final report delivered to the president. That is the project’s first milestone and we really have to wait for that to see how we progress. That report is expected to be completed by December. What we might do on those adjacent properties, that’s all up for discussion.

Do you see a need for additional amenities in that area of downtown to support the school’s development?

I believe that one thing the work group will be exploring is the relationships with immediate business owners as well as meeting the leadership of Grand Rapids. All the types of projects, and those like the Downtown Market, enhance the medical school and bring increasingly better quality of life to our students and employees. All those things we want to explore.

What about the college’s current partners? Are there opportunities to access funding or start collaborations and build those relationships further with the new facility?

The way they contribute really all depends on where they see their need for space. Each of those institutions will make a decision on what is the right way for them to participate. It could be any number of ways.

What is your biggest challenge right now?

Right now, the biggest problem is space. We have the opportunity to bring more principal research to the school, but we can’t do that unless we have more space.

What other headwinds are you facing in the medical education and research community?

We spend a lot of time talking with people from the National Institutes of Health, our congressman and our senators about the climate for research funding. It’s very discouraging right now in terms of career development for our young scientists. A lot of good research across the nation has stopped because of sequestration. It’s really reset the pace of research and is much slower now. We understand there isn’t enough money to do all the things that need to be done, but we think it’s a mistake to slip and let progress in medical research become stagnant.

What impact does cutting that funding have on researchers?

There has been a strong demoralizing effect on scientists as the country disinvests in them, especially among our young people. If we support them, these people will spend their lives investigating serious health problems, and it takes a combination of public and private dollars to do that. We all have to gather together to keep the viability and supremacy in our science. It’s not just that we need to be number one, but … we are saving lives and pushing the boundaries. I don’t know what the landscape will look like in 30 years, but I hope whoever is standing where I’m standing is saying the same thing.

Interview conducted and condensed by Elijah Brumback.

Read 1903 times Last modified on Monday, 16 September 2013 14:21

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