February 8, 2008

New post aids researchers’ quest for funds

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Julie Koh, Ph.D.

New post aids researchers’ quest for funds

Development and Alumni Relations at Vanderbilt University Medical Center has created a new position to help scientists find non-federal funding for their research.

The new director of Development for Biomedical Research is a Vanderbilt scientist, Julie Koh, Ph.D., who most recently was a postdoctoral fellow in the Vanderbilt Eye Institute.

As federal support of biomedical research has leveled off in recent years, the importance of funding from non-profit foundations has grown, said Koh, who earned her Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2001.

Koh's position is only three months old, but already her office is building a Web-based resource for faculty members to find foundation grant initiatives that match their research areas. “We would like to get it off the ground as soon as possible,” she said.

With the help of the Office of Biomedical Research Education and Training (BRET), Koh and her colleagues also are building a database of Vanderbilt scientists so funding sources can find researchers who complement their portfolios.

“That part of my job is pairing research interests of Vanderbilt scientists with grant initiatives of foundations,” she said.

Koh came to Vanderbilt six years ago to work with David Miller, Ph.D., professor of Cell and Developmental Biology, on the nervous system of the nematode C. elegans.

That led her to David Calkins, Ph.D., associate professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, to develop potential therapeutics in the treatment of glaucoma.

Along the way, she became impressed with the importance of non-profit foundations in supporting medical research. She has helped raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, including participating in two triathlons to benefit the society.

She became fascinated by the “power and dedication” both on the part of the donor organizations and the researchers who are supported by them. So last year, when she started looking for a new challenge outside of the lab, Development and Alumni Relations seemed to be a natural fit.

“Providing an organizational matchmaking service for research faculty has been a major priority for our office for some time, and we were very careful in selecting the right person to lead the effort,” said Randy Farmer, executive associate vice chancellor for Development and Alumni Relations for VUMC.

“Julie's science background, coupled with her high energy and sincere commitment to helping fellow researchers identify external funding sources, made her the perfect candidate to build the program,” Farmer said.

Koh is particularly interested in letting junior faculty members know about the opportunities for funding that are available in the non-federal sector. She welcomes questions and suggestions, and can be contacted at julie.koh@vanderbilt.edu.