Research at Jefferson: 2020

This is Jefferson Research

Thomas Jefferson University is a unique institution, marked by dualities: simultaneously new and deeply experienced; steeped in tradition and heedless of traditional boundaries; professionally focused and committed to knowledge-creation.

We conduct research both for itself and as an essential part of the educational process. In doing so, we fuse discovery, imagination and application—weaving together the pursuit of basic knowledge with its innovative translation and creative application. We strive to redefine the term “humanly possible” in disciplines ranging from immunology and vaccine development to design and creation of functional fabrics.

New to the ranks of Carnegie Research 2 Doctoral Universities, Jefferson was born of two 19th century academic institutions long respected for education and research. We are committed to a full spectrum of research; and we have created a robust culture where impassioned faculty, students, clinicians and technical staff collaborate across the traditional divides between basic, translational, clinical and applied. We honor both sides of Abraham Flexner's assertion of the “usefulness of useless knowledge” by pursuing knowledge for its own sake and strategically mining practical impact (and human benefit) from what we learn.

From 1824 to Today

Thomas Jefferson University traces its roots to the 1824 founding of Jefferson Medical College. A pioneer in medical education, it was the first school where medical students learned by observing experienced doctors treating patients and, then, by participating in supervised, hands-on care. Since then, Jefferson researchers have had a record of discovery and research leadership in biomedical science and clinical care; and the University’s research enterprise now includes a health system with nearly four million in- and outpatient visits a year.

In 2017, Jefferson joined with Philadelphia University to form a globally engaged professional university. Philadelphia University, founded in 1884, excelled at training professionals for careers in textile and material sciences, industrial design, architecture and health professions. A leader in hands-on professional education—exemplified by its pioneering “Nexus Learning” model—it employed applied research to connect students and faculty with public and private organizations seeking solutions for practical, real-world challenges. Today, companies, nonprofits and government agencies—from Johnson & Johnson and Federal-Mogul to NASA and Oak Ridge National Laboratories—seek out the creativity and expertise embodied in the research and education programs that are Philadelphia University’s legacy.

On that substantial cornerstone, we are building an even more robust research enterprise. We have, for example, established a new seed-funding mechanism (the Deans' Transformational Science Awards) and a bridge-funding program to address unanticipated gaps in external grant support. We added staff to reduce investigators’ administrative burden and facilitate collaboration across research groups and disciplines. And we launched new research and development platforms such as the Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing.

Driving Forward, Strategically

If we are aggressive in building our research capacities and platforms, we are highly disciplined in our overall research strategy: identifying areas of strength and meaningful opportunity, and building programs that emphasize collaborative, transdisciplinary and cross-professional approaches. This strategy is most evident in our Programmatic Research initiatives, which aim to make rapid and meaningful advances in understanding complex diseases and major societal challenges. Programmatic initiatives comprise teams of researchers with distinct, complementary expertise, who pursue a cohesive set of projects that often extends from basic research to translational, clinical and applied. In this report, we feature several of those Programs—ranging from RNA Biology and Fibrotic Diseases to the creation of 21st century smart cities.

The best current example of Programmatic research’s ability to drive rapid and meaningful advances is highlighted through our Vaccine Center’s development of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate (CORAVAX™), which went into animal trials in March 2020.

Jefferson is dedicated to supporting fundamental research on the most basic questions of science, engineering and society—studies driven not by institutional strategy but by investigators’ passions to explore very specific questions and follow the answers wherever they lead. This report illustrates the array of basic research studies we are pursuing—on topics ranging from mitochondrial function to the epigenetics of lung disease and the molecular basis of uveal melanoma—and it highlights how integral they are to both the pursuit of new knowledge and the discovery of solutions to specific challenges This report illustrates, too, the many ways that Jefferson investigators are pioneering in the application of new knowledge. From our clinical research on reducing surgical infections and treating liver disease to our applied research and development projects—in fields such as functional fabrics; medical and industrial use of hemp; and the design of lighting for population health—we are putting new knowledge to use, expeditiously, efficiently and productively to address real-world problems. Overall, this document offers just a sample of the exciting work we have undertaken in pursuit of Jefferson’s research mission:

Advancing and applying knowledge to improve lives.

These pages reflect the tremendous level of commitment, energy and momentum embodied in the Jefferson research enterprise. And they convey how proud—and ready—we are to join our Carnegie Research 2 Doctoral University peers in helping to define the future.

-Mark L. Tykocinski, MD

Provost, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs,
Thomas Jefferson University
The Anthony F. and Gertrude M. DePalma Dean Sidney Kimmel Medical College

The Epistemology of Jefferson Research

Research at Jefferson falls into three not-mutually-exclusive categories:

  • Basic/Discovery Research, which uncovers fundamental new knowledge in the sciences, engineering, social sciences and humanities. 
  • Clinical/Translational Research, which tests whether and how fundamental new knowledge can be translated for use—for example, in the clinical trial of a new drug. 
  • Applied Research, which subjects existing knowledge to new processes and technologies, and uses it to address specific needs for individuals, communities or organizations. It is the reduction-to-practice of prior research.

This way of organizing knowledge follows the conceptual model of scholarship presented in the 1990 Carnegie Foundation report Scholarship Reconsidered. The model comprises three interacting types of scholarship that, together, define a flexible approach that can apply to any discipline or professional field: Scholarship of Discovery, the commitment to knowledge for its own sake; Scholarship of Integration, which places special knowledge in a larger context; and Scholarship of Application, where knowledge is employed to address consequential human issues and often engages external clients.

Virtually all of research at Jefferson—from Basic/Discovery to Clinical/Translational to Applied—is grounded in or influenced by all three Scholarship lenses. This works because of the nature and range of professional and scholarly disciplines the University encompasses, and because of its determination to build transdisciplinary connections across the research spectrum.