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today constitute the biomedical sciences team at the SMHS


have produced some outstanding and important scholarship—

Founding chair of Biochemistry Eugene Cornatzer (left) and Fred Snyder in the lab at the former School of Medicine, ca. 1965.

and continue to attract major research grants from state and federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and National Science Foundation. And the number of such awards has grown considerably. A history of the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department— provided by Lambeth—shows that the department attracted “only” $6 million in research awards and fellowships between 1951 and 1982. And as John Vennes and Patrick McGuire document in their SMHS history North Dakota, Heal Thyself, in 1999 the School of Medicine and Health Sciences had “less than $300,000 in pending grants” from external agencies. By comparison, the Department of Biomedical Sciences, as a unified team, won over $20 million in research awards in 2017 alone. Such awards have been used to produce important work on cancer, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, aging, health disparities between populations,

broader research vision. This helps us be quite a bit more

and a variety of infectious diseases. This is all in addition

interdisciplinary. It’s pretty common now to have collaborative

to the basic science work ongoing at the School every day

publication and grant submissions from people who before

that contributes to the world’s understanding of the human

would have been in different departments.”

genome, neuroscience, and population health broadly.

Moving forward, Combs says the biomedical sciences team

The Future

at the SMHS fully expects to continue growing and evolving,

The result of all of this—70 years’ worth of combining

not only by continuing to publish in leading journals and attract

departments, the School’s expanded focus on research, and

major grant dollars, but by recruiting trainees of all levels.

the changing nature of both science and healthcare—is a department that today recruits and markets itself not on its strength in a particular discipline, but a series of research foci.

“We’re hoping to expand our number of graduate students and improve our training top-to-bottom,” he says. “We’re submitting grants that, if awarded, would allow faculty to

Managing the massive operation these days is Colin Combs,

do more work with high school students, undergraduates,

the Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor who became chair

graduate students, and postdocs. We’ve been increasing our

of Biomedical Sciences in 2015 and is now responsible for a

postdoc group steadily since we merged, and we’d like to

department that claims more than 150 faculty, staff, graduate

continue to do that.”

students, and postdoctoral researchers (or “postdocs”).

In the end, then, Carlson—who says “I can’t imagine

“We were always a pretty interactive group, even when we

anyone doing it better” of Combs’s leadership of the unified

were ‘separate,’” says Combs from his third floor office in the

department—argues that if UND’s biomedical sciences effort

SMHS. “Merging helped us bring together additional things

has not received the national recognition it deserves, it is

besides research interests, like ideas on graduate and postdoc

because the team here has been too modest for too long.

training. By combining we had to develop a cohesive mission that fit with all of our different interests.”

“We never sought the spotlight, but we deserve it,” he concludes. “This isn’t just a run-of-the-mill place—this is a really

As an example, Combs cites the several seminar series that

important center. We wanted to just do good work in the lab, and

were combined into one.

we’ve done a lot of work that should make us all proud, stuff

“One thing we didn’t do as well before was attend each department’s seminars,” Combs explains. “Now that it’s all one departmental seminar series, we’re engaged with a

that is still in use today around the world. I’m very, very proud of that and proud to be part of the heritage of this institution.” By Brian James Schill North Dakota Medicine Fall 2018


Fall 2018 North Dakota Medicine  

Fall 2018 North Dakota Medicine  

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