In January 2001, Jasti Rao, Ph.D., began his professional career at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria (UICOMP) as chief of Cancer Biology. Dr. Rao’s arrival received much publicity with high expectations—and with good reason. He was recruited from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He has published 132 articles, one book, nine book chapters, and edited three and reviewed 22 professional journals.
In addition, Dr. Rao has six active research grants: five National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants totaling $5.8 million, and one American Cancer Society grant for $100,000. Three of the NIH grants have been received since Dr. Rao came to Peoria, and two more NIH grant applications are pending, with responses due this summer.
Dr. Rao’s arrival was a major strategic step toward Peoria moving into the 21st century knowledge economy. It was a significant collaborative effort, a shining example of leveraging the existing strengths of our community. Since his arrival, the community may not have heard very much about Dr. Rao, but he’s been very active in his efforts to bring more research opportunities to Peoria.
Dr. Rao initially was chief of the Section of Cancer Biology in the Department of Biomedical and Therapeutic Sciences. In February, the Program of Cancer Biology was approved, with Dr. Rao as head. Becoming a program means more prestige and recognition within the academic community.
The cancer research is supported by five post-doctoral research associates, one senior research specialist, one research specialist, a neurosurgery resident, summer students, and volunteers. Recruitment for an additional five post-doctoral research associates and one research specialist is in process. Bringing these highly educated knowledge workers to Peoria is one of the goals for our future.
Under Dr. Rao’s leadership, the Cancer Biology faculty has published 14 articles and 26 abstracts within the past year. Seven presentations were made at national and international meetings. Research grants awarded to date this year total $1,473,000. Sponsors of his research include the National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society.
Our community needs Dr. Rao to establish a strong, well-supported program at UICOMP. This will require the recruitment of additional faculty and staff. To achieve this, space and start up funds must be made available. Having a medical and technology district could re-energize the concept of a comprehensive cancer facility located on the UICOMP campus. Without this facility, it will be difficult to build the program.
An individual like Dr. Rao can recruit 10 researchers like him with their research teams. This would allow increased grant applications for external funding of research with increased likelihood of success. In addition, UICOMP’s ability to teach medical students, residents, post-doctoral research associates, and research specialists will be enhanced. All of these talented researchers will carry UICOMP’s and Peoria’s name to national and international organizations they would serve.
The future development of UICOMP and a comprehensive cancer center are two critical components of not only retaining Dr. Rao, but bringing more professionals like Dr. Rao into Peoria. IBI