John K. Niparko, MD

John K. Niparko, MD

The Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC) climbed 30 spots in two years to join the country’s 10 highest funded medical schools by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for 2014 otolaryngology research, according to an independent analysis by the non-profit Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research.

In 2014, the Department of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC received $3.25 million of $85 million in NIH awards targeted to clinical otolaryngology departments across the country, vaulting to No. 10 of NIH-funded programs and surpassing the likes of Harvard University, New York University and the University of California, San Francisco. An additional $2.8 million in NIH funding was transferred to the department in 2014 from other institutions’ existing research programs now at USC. The achievement aligns with USC President C. L. Max Nikias’ charge to become Southern California’s most elite health system, with global prominence in medicine, biological sciences, translational research, biotechnology and patient care.

“The vibrant academic community of scientists interested in the communication sciences at USC enabled us to attract top-notch research programs from the House Research Institute, the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University over the last two years, providing a critical mass of investigators dedicated to the communication sciences and placing us among the world’s elite clinical otolaryngology departments,” said John K. Niparko, MD, professor and chair of otolaryngology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “This talented team has found important synergies at USC, and their research promises to directly affect clinical assessment and care in the immediate future.”

Niparko, an internationally renowned otoneurologic surgeon and researcher, came to USC from Johns Hopkins in February 2013, bringing with him more than $2.5 million in NIH and foundation grants that year alone. He has since grown the department, adding 16 full-time faculty clinician-scientists and basic scientists, including seven who serve as principal investigators on NIH-supported studies.

Key NIH-funded hearing research programs at USC include the study of genetic predispositions to age-related hearing loss, exploring stem cell therapy for restoring hearing loss and evaluating the effectiveness of cochlear implantation and auditory brainstem implants in deaf children. USC’s otolaryngology department came in at No. 16 in 2013 and at No. 40 in 2012.

Otolaryngology is the oldest medical specialty in the United States, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery. Otolaryngologists are physicians who diagnose and manage diseases of the ear, nose, sinuses, voice box, mouth and throat, as well as other structures in the neck and face. The NIH is the country’s designated agency for supporting research that will improve health and save lives. It is the largest source of funding for medical research in the world. In 2013, automatic cuts to the federal budget – called sequestration – required the NIH to cut 5 percent of its fiscal year 2013 budget, affecting all areas of medical research.

The Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research, based in North Carolina, used the publicly accessible Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tool (RePORT) from the NIH to compile its analysis. In 2014, USC also ranked among the Top 10 NIH-funded programs in public health and preventive medicine (No. 1) and ophthalmology (No. 3).

By Alison Trinidad