Washington University Medical Center is among the largest academic medical centers in the nation, renowned for basic science and clinical research in every area of medicine. Visit the School’s medical news website to learn more.

Although medical students are not required to conduct research, those who are interested will find rich and abundant opportunities for doing so. Visit Student Research Opportunities to learn more.

Gifts and grants

The School of Medicine was awarded nearly $576 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in federal fiscal year 2021, an increase of nearly $88 million over the previous year.  This is an all-time high for the school in NIH-supported funding, and the sixth consecutive year of growth in NIH grant awards.  Research grants and contracts to School of Medicine faculty from all sources totaled over $762 million in our fiscal year 2021.  Sources of gifts and grants include alumni and other individual donors, foundations, corporations, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and other government agencies such as the Department of Defense and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

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School of Medicine research firsts from Washington University include:

  • Served as a major contributor of genome sequence data to the Human Genome Project, providing the foundation for personalized medicine
  • Developed screening tests used worldwide to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease 
  • Created the first positron emission tomography (PET) scanner, used to image the brain and other organs at work
  • Helped pioneer the use of insulin to treat diabetes
  • Developed the first surgical prevention of cancer based on genetic testing–in work on medullary thyroid cancer
  • Published the first evidence linking smoking and lung cancer
  • Performed the world’s first nerve transplant using nerve tissue from a cadaver donor
  • Proposed the now-common practice of taking aspirin to help prevent heart attacks
  • Developed a blood test that quickly and safely identifies whether a patient needs invasive treatment for a heart attack
  • Demonstrated that severely malnourished children given antibiotics along with a therapeutic peanut-butter based food are far more likely to recover and survive than children who only receive the therapeutic food

Ongoing clinical research includes:

  • Participating in a national network to determine new ways to prevent preterm birth
  • Developing new ways to diagnose and treat stroke as part of a national network of leading stroke treatment centers
  • Making groundbreaking contributions to decoding the genetics of cancer and developing personalized treatments
  • Leading an international collaboration to study inherited forms of Alzheimer’s disease and spearheading the first drug prevention trial
  • Pioneering non-invasive radiation treatment for life-threatening heart arrhythmias and heart valve replacement
  • Participating in the National Children’s Study, the largest U.S. study of child and human health ever conducted
  • Leading research, teaching and community engagement to improve population health through Washington University’s Institute for Public Health
  • Investigating changes to the brain in soldiers exposed to roadside bomb blasts and athletes who have suffered repeated concussions, to understand their long-term mental and physical consequences
  • Leading research to improve care for heart failure and cardiovascular disease, including clinical trials to evaluate mechanical assist devices and studies to look at the link between diabetes and aggressive heart disease

Ongoing basic science research includes:

  • Developing new strategies to fight antibiotic resistance, including vaccines against sugerbugs
  • Leading an international effort to map major brain circuits to understand how the mind works and the roots of brain disease
  • Pioneering studies probing the links between obesity and malnutrition and the community of microbes living in the gut
  • Identifying biomarkers in the brain and spinal cord to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms develop
  • Spearheading research to understand and prevent the devastating consequences of Zika virus infection
  • Developing and using nanoparticles for molecular imaging and targeted drug delivery for cancer and heart, lung and vascular diseases
  • Exploring the genetic influences at play in alcohol, smoking and drug addiction
  • Studying role of senescent cells in aging, cancer and neurodegeneration, with goal of developing treatments

Advances in COVID-19 research include:

  • Developed a saliva-based test that is faster and easier to tolerate than the nasopharyngeal swab test
  • Created a mouse model of SARS-CoV-2 infection, to help test potential drugs and vaccines
  • Developed a vaccine that could be delivered through the nose; the technology has been licensed for further development
  • Participated in national and international vaccine and drug clinical trials
  • Played a leading role in the NIH-sponsored ACTIV-1 trial, evaluating whether anti-inflammatory drugs can shorten hospital stays
  • Led research indicating that a low-cost antidepressant can prevent severe complications of COVID-19

Learn more about Washington University School of Medicine research.

Translational research: BioMed 21

BioMed 21 is a major university-wide initiative to spur multidisciplinary translational research. Its ultimate mission is to foster translation of fundamental laboratory discoveries into clinical solutions to advance human health.

BioMed 21 includes the creation of several Interdisciplinary Research Centers (IRCs), each focused on a specific disease area or set of biomedical issues:

Three units — The Elizabeth H. and James S. McDonnell III Genome Institute, the Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences and the Center for Clinical Imaging Research — support the IRCs.