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"Treatment is the result of discovery"

A new professorship in the Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences ensures that the early-stage research crucial to medical advancement thrives at Hopkins
Posted February 8, 2017
Rebecca James, PhD, and Alex Kolodkin, PhD, conduct research in Kolodkin's basic sciences lab. Rebecca James, PhD, and Alex Kolodkin, PhD, conduct research in Kolodkin's basic sciences lab.

As a venture capitalist, Charles Homcy, MD (Med '73), A&S '70, gives a lot of thought to the idea of "greatest need" — what are those areas, and what can he do to make the biggest difference? When the former cardiologist surveys the field of medicine, he says neuropsychiatry is an area of great patient need. That's why the Johns Hopkins University trustee recently endowed the Charles J. Homcy, MD, and Simeon G. Margolis, MD, PhD, Professorship.

"Because the brain is the most complex organ, it still remains a black box," says Homcy, who named the professorship in honor of his mentor, Simeon Margolis, MD (Med '57), PhD (Med '64), A&S '53, a professor emeritus of medicine and biological chemistry.

Hopkins has enormous potential to crack open this black box and accelerate the field, which includes developing treatments for diseases ranging from autism to schizophrenia, Homcy says, so it was a natural decision for him to endow this professorship — the first dedicated to neuroscience in the Hopkins Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences (IBBS).

"Basic science is where the innovation comes from, and that is where the breakthrough medicine of the future will come from," Homcy says.

Like every endowed professorship, the gift frees up the recipient — in this case, Alex Kolodkin, PhD, professor of neuroscience — to concentrate on research without also having to fundraise for salaries and lab equipment. But what makes this professorship unusual, says IBBS Director Stephen Desiderio, MD (Med '78), PhD (Med '81), is its focus on basic science, which gives Kolodkin time and freedom to discover — perhaps the most important process within scientific exploration.

"It takes a discerning person to realize that all medical treatment is the result of basic research; all rational treatment is the result of discovery," Desiderio says. "And it takes an exceptional person to recognize that discovery is its own end. It will eventually — perforce — evolve to application, but discovery itself is its own end. That's how I view the Homcy-Margolis professorship."

Truly innovative research — that which has not yet been tested and proven — depends on philanthropy. Federal funders like the National Institutes of Health, Desiderio points out, require evidence of preliminary work before making an investment. And researchers face far greater hurdles in raising money for discovery-based science than for translational work, making private funding for ventures like Kolodkin's even more critical.

The Homcy and Margolis Professorship will enable Kolodkin to hire an additional researcher as he delves ever deeper into the molecular and cellular mechanisms that facilitate nervous system wiring. These projects may, down the road, attract federal investment into promising directions that explore how neural circuits function in health and disease.

"This type of endowment is a very much appreciated vote of confidence by our institution, provided by Dr. Homcy, that allows experimental flexibility and stability, allowing our investigation into neural wiring mechanisms to proceed to fruition," Kolodkin says.

To learn more about how you can support research in the Institute of Basic Biomedical Sciences, please contact Sarah Farrell, director of development.