Reghan Dukes, an 18-year-old incoming Florida Gateway College student, was diagnosed with Turner Syndrome in 2020. She received treatment for the chromosomal disorder which results from a female being born with only one X chromosome, at the UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital since.
She quickly bonded with Dr. Laura Jacobsen, her first specialized doctor; after two years of treatment she now calls Jacobsen ‘bestie’ in conversation.
Dukes visits the hospital about 30 times a year for complications with her ears, eyes, gastrointestinal tract, heart, hormones, kidneys and stomach.
“They’re always so helpful and so sweet,” she said. “I’ve really never had a bad interaction with any of them.”
Dukes is happy she met Jacobsen and the rest of the staff at UF Health, and she tries to show her support for the hospital by telling others about the care she received.
UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital received a $30 million grant from the state in May and was named the No. 1 children’s hospital in Florida June 14. UF’s College of Pharmacy’s research funding also earned its spot as the No. 3 program in the nation June 23.
“This kind of money from the state puts us in the range to compete with the Ivy Leagues and the other big universities,” said UF Health Cancer Center director Jonathan Licht.
The grant, which was a portion of the state’s combined $100 million grant for cancer research and care, will make up about 60% of the cancer hospital’s 2022-2023 budget, Licht said. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis distributed the remaining $70 million between the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
A portion of the grant will be used to find clinical investigators and physicians from around the country, Licht said.
“We don't go around taking people from our friends at Moffitt or Miami,” he said. “We're bringing new blood into the state.”
The money will also bolster the hospital’s clinical research office. The center wants to expand in several areas, Licht said, including data and artificial intelligence fields.
The hospital, which UF Health Shands CEO Ed Jimenez described as a magnet for patients all around the state, doesn’t want to become stagnant. The children’s hospital’s No. 1 state ranking was possible because of the staff, who will continue to find ways to improve, he said.
“If it weren’t for all these thousands of people, we would not get these accolades.” Jimenez said.
UF’s College of Pharmacy also hopes to expand its research opportunities and grow its team of students, faculty and researchers as a result of its new ranking.
Julie Johnson, the dean of the College of Pharmacy, said the college discovers new drugs and studies how select drugs function in the human body. The research attests for the increase in funding, she said.
“The successes really helped facilitate more successes,” she said.
The college received $32.3 million in research grants – not including donor funding — for the 2021 fiscal year, the college’s highest annual total, according to a report by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.
Johnson said the funding supports projects unique to each PhD student as they progress in the program, which grew from around 80 students to 130 over the past two years. They use their projects to strengthen resumes and compete in the job market.
“It's really a relatively small percent of colleges that can offer those kinds of opportunities,” she said.
PharmD students, who are pursuing a doctorate in pharmacy, can voluntarily pick up projects to work with experienced pharmaceutical leaders.
Daniela Luzardo, a third-year UF PharmD graduate student working alongside infectious diseases professor Anthony Casapao to research human and pet antibiotics, said students have bountiful opportunities to get involved in the pharmaceutical program. She thinks the college’s efforts to increase funding along with its No. 3 national ranking could pull in prospective graduate students.
“People are attracted to numbers,” she said.