The year since Masters Tournament visitors were last here has been “tremendously productive” for Georgia Regents University, President Ricardo Azziz said.
He can point to a number of deals done and multimillion-dollar gifts received, of buildings being completed and another just getting funded.
The Masters gave the university $6 million through the Community Foundation for the Central Savannah River Area, in part to help fund a new $62.5 million cancer center. With $8 million pledged from the city of Augusta, that allowed the university to have the required money in the bank needed for the state to release bond funds and keep the project moving. That will be just the first part of a much bigger presence in cancer, Azziz said.
“The cancer center effort is a long-term, progressive effort which involves bringing in more scientists, bringing in more clinicians, obviously expanding our patient base, expanding our reach across the community and the state and the region, and expanding our educational efforts regarding cancer,” he said. “As part of that growth we also need to make sure we have adequate facilities. The first part that we’re beginning to focus on is making sure that we have enough research facilities for our cancer researchers as we expand their recruitment.”
The plan is to eventually have a second research building and expanded clinical facilities that will “be part of a much larger complex,” Azziz said.
“As researchers come in, they do like to see that you invested in research,” Azziz said. “And as patients come here from different areas, they’d like to see a facility that is competitive. That’s why in the long term, building a cancer center complex is important for both our ability to provide cancer care, for our ability to be recognized across the region and the state but also for (National Cancer Institute) designation.” GRU would then have the state’s second NCI-designated Cancer Center, along with Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University.
GRU is also scheduled to open the J. Harold Harrison MD Education Commons Building this fall, funded in part by a $10 million gift from Harrison, a Medical College of Georgia alumnus and former chair of the MCG Foundation. But that gift pales in comparison to the $66 million bequest Harrison made to the foundation – the largest single gift ever to a public university in Georgia – that will fund scholarships at MCG and endowed chairs.
“Endowed chairs are always used to bring in a superstar,” Azziz said. Having more of them allows for more of a global presence, he said.
“We are progressively and fairly rapidly beginning to assert our global presence,” Azziz said. “We’ve done it obviously in China in partnership with the Confucius Institute and the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine is part of that, but also across the globe, from a scientific point of view, we really are beginning to pluck the best of the best to add to already good people we have.”
As part of the effort in China, the university recently inaugurated its Confucius Institute, the first with an academic health center and the first in the Western Hemisphere to be focused on traditional Chinese medicine, he said.
GRU already has extensive research into epigallocatechin gallate, a powerful polyphenol found in green tea, and Azziz’s own lab is looking into the Chinese herb extract berberine for insulin resistance.
“The Confucius Institute effort will allow us to hopefully become a center for traditional Chinese medicine over time,” he said.
The university took over management of the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation, once owned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and last year signed a 15-year partnership with Royal Phillips to be its technology provider.
“We partner with them in helping them develop and refine their technology so it is a symbiotic alliance,” Azziz said. “The main result of that from GRU’s point of view is better health care, more advanced health care, higher quality health care for our patients.”
The university completed the consolidation of Georgia Health Sciences and Augusta State universities and received full approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, he said. And it has started to push its students to graduate in four years with some success – 42 percent of the freshman class last year completed 15 credit hours during the fall semester, compared to 4 percent the year before, Azziz said.
“That’s pretty significant,” he said.