Interview by Nancy West
Asif Ilyas, MD, MCPHU ’01, MBA, FACS, is associate dean of clinical research, a newly created position at Drexel University College of Medicine. He is also a professor of orthopedic surgery at Thomas Jefferson University and a surgeon at the Rothman Institute. A prolific researcher, he has published over 200 scientific studies and papers in peer-reviewed journals.
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS for clinical research at Drexel University College of Medicine?
I have three broad goals in this new role. First, to grow the clinical research output of the College of Medicine along with our partner clinical sites, with particular focus on studies that will be most influential in terms of caring for our communities, as well as translational research. Second, to develop the clinical research expertise of our teaching faculty across our many clinical sites. Third, to increase the research opportunities and experience of our medical students.
WHAT IS YOUR STRATEGY for achieving these goals?
Since starting in this role in October 2022, I’ve been conducting a listening tour to learn from all key stakeholders about current research activities across the College of Medicine. I have been speaking with regional deans and their deputies charged with research at their campuses. I have also been talking with academic department chairs to learn about their research activities and needs. In addition, I have been talking to medical school administrators who are running various programs that support medical student research. Ultimately, my goal is to enhance their efforts as well as drive cross-pollination of these programs.
I am also talking to our medical students, who are eagerly pursuing clinical research for a variety of reasons. In addition to learning medicine, they need to become well-versed in the research process. This better positions them to succeed in securing a residency in the specialty of their choice and eventually to be more well-rounded as clinicians. My role is to try to help them achieve these research goals.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS of conducting clinical research?
Clinical research helps to advance science and enhance care in the communities we serve. It also helps our medical students, residents and fellows to understand the scientific process. Our faculty benefit by advancing their own professional development. In addition, attracting more research dollars will further advance and enhance Drexel’s overall mission.
WHAT DO YOU FIND MOST challenging about clinical research?
It takes a lot of perseverance to execute an effective and meaningful study in the midst of a physician’s daily clinical and personal responsibilities. There are the standard challenges of study design, recruiting subjects and data reporting, as well as data protection and analysis. In addition, clinical studies can be very expensive to execute so there can be significant financial challenges as well.
WHAT IS YOUR STRATEGY FOR dealing with these challenges?
When I am mentoring someone in the research process, my advice is to start small with straightforward projects directly relevant to their practice and expertise. Then build on that experience and move into larger and more elaborate studies when you better understand both the subject matter and the research process. Like anything, you have to walk before you can run.
WHAT IS THE FOCUS OF your personal clinical research?
My research focuses on orthopedic injuries, especially to the upper extremities. I also enjoy studying peripheral nerve injuries and their management. Most recently, my research has focused on opioids and pain management strategies to decrease post-operative opioid use and dependency. I have also dedicated a lot of time to developing and championing “wide awake hand surgery” techniques, which allow us to perform surgery to treat tendon and nerve conditions, for example, without the need for general anesthesia, thereby avoiding its associated risks, costs and complications.
WHY WAS THIS NEWLY CREATED position appealing to you?
The opportunity to come back to my alma mater to help grow clinical research in this new role was very exciting to me, particularly in light of the latest changes and evolution of the College of Medicine through the leadership of Dean Cairns. The multitude of clinical and strategic partners brings a unique richness and amazing potential to the medical school.
Most recently, what is particularly exciting is the move of the medical school from the Queen Lane Campus to West Philadelphia. This hails a new chapter in the College’s history, where it will now sit on Drexel’s University City Campus. This should allow for greater collaborative and translational research efforts across the various aspects of the medical school with the broader Drexel University enterprise.