Twenty-five years ago, when I moved from Shiraz University of Medical Sciences to the Division of Gastrointestinal (GI) and hepatology (HEP) of Shariati Hospital affiliated with Tehran University of Medical Sciences I was the only faculty member in the department.
At the time, I had the responsibility of training three clinical GI-HEP fellows and take care of GI-Hep ward with 18 beds, as well as the outpatients clinic. There was a small 3X2 meter endoscopy room Located in the GI-HEP ward with a D4 Olympus endoscopy and a colonoscopy for endoscopy procedures.
With the efforts of my young colleagues and our infinite enthusiasm, the program to develop the Gastrointestinal and Liver Unit of the hospital along with the establishment of the first Digestive Disease Research Center of Iran was designed and implemented.
The first step was to employ five gastroenterologist graduates from our own program as assistant professors, who soon began providing clinical and teaching service at the section.
In 1993, when professor Massarrat joined our section I was able to enroll 3 young medical school graduates as research fellow in order to establish the first Digestive Disease Research Center (DDRC) .Two years later DDRC was formally approved as a research center by Tehran University of Medical Sciences (TUMS).
We were also able to secure funding from the Ministry of Health and Medical Education (MOHME) and the IR of Iran President office to support our research activity
In 1996, following our continuous efforts, we were able to obtain the formal approval from the Council for the Development of Medical Science Universities (CDMSU) at the MOHME Iran for DDRC in TUMS and at Shariati hospital, and in 1998, with the support and coordination of the of respectable members of the Iranian parliament, a separate budget line was dedicated to our center.
Our primary objective was to act as a multipurpose research facility and provide a new model for clinical research center in Iran. Our main objectives were:
- Promote research in GI and liver diseases in an integrated, collaborative and multidisciplinary manner.
- Prepare and offer appropriate training programs for young researchers in the field of digestive diseases
- Recruit young, talented graduates from TUMS and other universities of Iran in order to train them for conducting and carrying out research activities while providing clinical care to patients
- Focus on key health-related research areas / issues at a local and regional level through joint research projects and collaboration with other national and international research centers
Our persistent efforts to establish appropriate physical space, facilities and Lab equipment, along with several successful research projects and enrollment of new staff members continued for years to come. The most significant contributions to the development of the Center were undoubtedly provided by prominent young academic staff and conscientious research assistants whose passion and efforts made the advancement of the center possible with stewardship of limited resources.
We were able to establish a group comprising of interested researchers, clinicians and experienced staff in various fields .This strong team work provided a suitable platform for conducting clinical and population-based research while delivering world class clinical services in digestive and liver diseases. We were also able to renovate our old inpatient unit of the gastroenterology department, and establish a new ward with much better setting for our patients and staff to work.
We also was able to establish a new endoscopy division with adequate space and a 20-bed daily clinic well equipped to deliver common and advanced endoscopic services as a major referral GI-HEP services in Iran to patients who now come from all over the country along with offering training to GI fellows who became ready to work in other provinces of the country.
In 2011, DDRC was approved to be upgraded by MOHME to a Research Institute (DDRI) with 3 research centers including Liver and Pancreaticobiliary Research Center, DDRC, Digestive Oncology Research Centers. In 2017 a new research center "Cell therapy for Gastrointestinal and Liver Diseases" was also established within the Institute. Today, the Institute has 4 research centers with 21 clinical faculty members, 12 research scholars, 10 faculty members with joint affiliation from other most renowned universities and research centers of the world. We also have 8 PhD students and 14 research fellows , as well as 18 administrative staff members and 45 active employees at the Golestan cohort research base.
Currently, 20 research groups are engaged in conducting research on 20 common gastrointestinal and liver diseases. The results of this Institute’s research have been published in more than a thousand peer-reviewed articles by some of the most prestigious international and national scientific journals.
This all resulted in ranking first place among all national Iranian clinical research institutes during last 2 years. Especially in terms of citations and impact, the Institute earned the highest score.
The DDRI also been a successful recipient of research grants from some of the world's leading research centers, including the National Cancer Institute / National Institutes of Health (NCI / NIH), the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC / WHO), Cancer Research UK, the University of Cambridge, the Canadian Institute of Cancer Research, European Association for Cancer Research (EACR) and World cancer research fund (WCRF).These grants have supported the education, training and specialization of more than 30 researchers in some of the most reputable scientific centers abroad.
One of the main areas of research at the Institute is gastrointestinal cancers, accounting for approximately 27% of all cancers in Iran. In this regard, we established the Atrak and Aras Clinics in the Northeastern and Northwestern parts of Iran respectively, where there is a high prevalence of esophageal and gastric cancers. Conducting critical and best quality studies, such as case-control studies (in Golestan and Ardebil) and cohort studies of esophageal and gastric cancers in Golestan and noncommunicable disease cohort in Fars (Pars cohort study) and strongly Supporting the establishment of Persian Cohort study with 20 branches in other universities of medical sciences are among the major research achievements. Another very important achievement was establishing a population-based cancer registry in Golestan province which used as a model for establishment of National Iranian population-based cancer registry. All of these activities became possible through the Institute’s very strong international research collaborations.
During the last decade, DDRI /TUMS has been recognized for its significant contributions to the field and received international and national awards, such as the Avicenna Award, the Razi Science Research Festival Award, Hadavi Award from Academy of Medical sciences of Iran the Organization of Islamic Conference Award, the Medal of Honor from the International Agency for Cancer Research, and many more.
The DDRI of TUMS has made its mission to improve the quality of patient care, and medical services to Iranians who suffer from diseases such as gastrointestinal cancers, chronic liver disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and other disorders of the gastrointestinal tract and the liver. At the same time, it employs all its resources and facilities to educate and train a new generation of students, researchers, residents and fellows specializing in digestive and liver diseases and equipped them with the necessary knowledge and skills to meet the future needs of our Nation.
Dr. Reza Malekzadeh M.D
Distinguished Professor of Medicine
Director Digestive Disease Research Institute
Tehran University of Medical Sciences
Shariati Hospital Tehran Iran