SB’s Obeid sets ambitious goals for medical research
Multitasking has been a necessity for Lina Obeid. The dean for research at the Stony Brook Medical School, Obeid runs a laboratory that focuses on cancer research, advocates for greater resources for other scientists, helps recruit staff members to join the university’s research department, and sees geriatric patients at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport.
“I’m very efficient,” she said, as she spoke on a car phone on the way back from seeing patients to her lab. She is also ambitious, for herself and for the university.
Currently, Stony Brook ranks about 70th in money directed by the National Institute of Health, one of the main funding agencies for research.
“I would like us to move up to the top 50 and maybe to the top 25 at some point,” said Obeid.
Obeid said she watches over common resources. Recently, she went to bat for a new super-resolution microscope. The NIH had agreed to support 60 percent of the cost, so she asked Stony Brook to step up for the other half.
The microscope, she argued, “would really put us on the map if we had it,” she said.
Ken-Ichi Takemaru, an associate professor at Stony Brook, had led a group of 10 investigators in applying for the microscope.
Obeid “was highly supportive of our grant application from the beginning and immediately acted to secure a matching fund,” he said. “Her generous support was also recognized at NIH and helped our application to receive a high score.”
Obeid and Hannun, who have worked in their labs together for years, created a grant-seminar series two years ago that is designed to improve the approach of Stony Brook staff to finding funding.
The seminars are designed to “get their grants better,” she said. She will be starting a program to provide access to outside experts who can read and evaluate grant proposals.
These efforts help scientists “dot their I’s and cross their T’s to make the grants look tight and clean,” she said.
Obeid is also involved in recruiting scientists to join the university. She chaired the search and advocated strongly for the recruitment of Joel Saltz to become the chair of a new biomedical informatics department last year.
“We were very successful,” Obeid recalled. “Everyone was on board as he is the best possible recruit for this new department.” When she’s tried to lure other scientists to the school, she said she highlights the health sciences and physical mathematics sciences.
To tackle new frontiers in medicine, Stony Brook also has a strong engineering and computer sciences department, which “allows us to do unique things other universities can’t do for cancer and other illnesses. We can really break new ground.”
In her daily responsibilities, Obeid believes her research remains her top priority, where, as is characteristic of her approach to her work and life, she moves in several directions at the same time. She is exploring the role of enzymes that control two molecules that are instrumental for a cell: one of them controls growth and proliferation while the other enhances cell death and differentiation.
“When you have this yin and yang, it’s important to understand the enzymes that make and break them,” Obeid said. These enzymes can become drug targets, turning on or off critical cell signals.
She is also studying how some cancers have mutations that cause them to have an inflammatory response when treated with chemotherapy, instead of dying or going into remission. She is exploring lipids, which were originally thought only to store fat, but, instead, may have a signaling role.
Obeid believes her clinical work with geriatric patients helps inform and direct some of her research, while also allowing her to do something that comes naturally to her. “It’s important for me to be in touch with clinical care,” she said. “I like taking care of people.”
Obeid appreciates the opportunity to work with World War II veterans at the hospital.
The daughter of a retired academic surgeon, Obeid said her father Sami Obeid, whose 90th birthday she and her three brothers recently celebrated in California, has been an inspiration to her.
He is “superb with his hands, very efficient and the kindest person I know,” she said. He was known for walking into a room and lighting it up with his smile. Obeid said she tries to emulate that when she walks around campus.
As for the decision to join Stony Brook, Hannun said he deferred to his wife. “I got engaged by the possibilities here,” Obeid said. “It was a big decision. I said, ‘Let’s do something different.’ He was surprised by my saying that.”