Staff Q&A: Lorri Schieri

Lorri Schieri, Institute for Translational MedicinePhoto credit: Candace diCarlo

Running the administrative arm of an institute that encompasses 400 faculty, students, staff and post-docs, from nine schools at Penn, and involves researchers from three additional institutions, is a big job.

And it’s Lorri Schieri’s.

As lead administrator for the Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics, called ITMAT for short, Schieri helps run the intellectual home for researchers and investigators interested in translational research. This includes investigators from several different Penn schools, including Medicine, Nursing, Engineering and Arts & Sciences, as well as from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, Children’s Hospital and the Wistar Institute.

Schieri also serves as the administrative director for CTSA, or the Clinical and Translational Science Award—the large, multi-institution grant from the National Institutes of Health that funds the development of translational therapies. In short, Schieri says her days involve a ton of meetings, phone calls, correspondence and paperwork—and require a fair dose of organization to keep everything running smoothly.

Schieri used to work in corporate finance but prefers her current environment, where each day presents a new challenge. “If I had to come in and create profit-and-loss statements every day, that just wouldn’t appeal to me—which is why I don’t work in corporate finance anymore,” she says.

Q. What are your duties here?
I could typically plan my day or week out, but I could tell you it never turns out that way. As an administrator, I basically have to make sure the department can run, so even though I may decide to come in and work on my budget or work on the CTSA—the large grant we have—I usually have to keep everyone happy. There could be lots of problems that crop up, from space issues, to flooding in areas that require attention to resolve and so it’s difficult to plan my days.
I walk the tightrope in the middle. I try and keep the School happy, I try to keep my Chair happy, I try to keep the faculty happy, I try to keep the staff happy. It’s juggling responsibilities.

Q. What exactly is translational medicine?
It means bench to bedside, in theory. Translating what goes on in the lab into treatment for patients.

Q. What is the CTSA, or the Clinical & Translational Science Award, all about?
Basically, there used to be something called the General Clinical Research Center in [HUP] and it was a place for clinicians to perform clinical research on patients. So, you have a study and you need to do some patient testing, whether they’re inpatient or outpatient, the GCRC was sort of a place to allow people to perform that research where they had a whole infrastructure to take care of things such as blood draws and infusions and things of that nature.
[National Institutes of Health] did away with the GCRC model, transforming it into a model that reached out beyond the place where some of the infrastructures provided to do clinical research. ...
The other thing the Clinical & Tran slational Science Award does is training—one of its major purposes is to train a new cadre of people in translational research. We have a Master’s program that actually will prepare individuals for this discipline.

Q. What specific skills do people need to work in translational medicine?
Most of them aren’t just getting a Master’s degree. Most of them are M.D.s or they’ll do an add-on to their M.D. or V.M.D. or D.M.D. They basically take classes to help them learn how to design studies, how to conduct studies. Introduction to biostatistics, fundamentals of patient-orientated research, scientific and ethical conduct, disease measurement and they have a thesis and a lab.

Q. The CTSA houses researchers from Penn, Wistar, University of the Sciences, CHOP—places that would normally compete for grant monies. How do you make this work?
It’s a new approach to science. If you look at grants, a lot are going to team science rather than individual silos. This is a classic example that I guess the NIH is showing people how to work together.
If you think about science, it’s not just about one person. It’s more about everyone working together.
Think about it—even though we’ve all worked together, we’re still separate institutions and each institution has its own challenges and its own administrative structure and staff. CHOP is actually a lot easier to navigate than we are here because we’re at the School and we have to go to the University for final say.

Q. You used to work in finance. Do you ever miss that?
I find finance very interesting, but it’s definitely not something I’d like to do all day. I actually like the fact that I try to plan my day, but I can’t plan my day.
I like the changing environment. It’s very dynamic. I definitely like that. I like working for such a visionary. I also like not coming into the same thing every day.

Q. What are the goals for the Institute?
Garrett [FitzGerald, director of ITMAT] is actually trying to obtain another large grant. As the funding environment changes, ITMAT has to be positioned to be able to try to obtain some other type of multidiscplinary grants. How does he do that? He has a lot of—I have to tell you—a lot of vision. He definitely can see things happen before they happen. He’s able to pull it all together. I follow his lead and execute what needs to be done to make it work.

Q. Is Penn at the forefront of translational medicine?
I think that Penn is definitely at the leading edge of it. There’s going to be about 50 CTSAs, give or take a few, by the year 2010 or 2012, and basically, it’ll end up that each state will have one or two, depending on how the academic medical centers are set up. We were the first batch of six awards, and obviously that goes to show that we’re probably pretty well advanced.

Originally published March 27, 2008

Originally published on March 27, 2008