In the News: WSEF Grant and Research Challenges in Anaplastology

PRL was mentioned in the following article about the WSEF Grant.
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With 2014 being the 100th year of Walter Spohn's birth, the first ever Walter Spohn Educational Fund (WSEF) Grant for research and education in anaplastology will be given to one or more applicants within the International Anaplastology Association (IAA). In this article, Anaplastologist and WSEF Committee Chair wrote:

This grant is meant to empower anaplastologists to experiment and pursue innovation, and to share their knowledge with their colleagues in order to improve and advance their profession.

Today, many anaplastologists, researchers, and educators are struggling to work toward this goal due simply to lack of financial support. Anaplastologists in educational institutions, hospitals, and private clinics all struggle to budget time and resources to high quality research, yet this type of work is essential for us to continue to improve. Additionally, finding outside funding for anaplastology research is extremely difficult.

To quote Rosemary Seelaus, Senior Anaplastologist at the Craniofacial Center in the University of Illinois at Chicago:

The patient populations we serve are a high needs population requiring costly treatment, but do not represent huge population volumes compared to other large patient populations...In facial prosthetics, we are a much smaller community of professionals, and of patients, so making the arguments to support R&D initiatives that translate into large scale impact in patient care is much more challenging.

Calhoun, Michaela, The WSEF Grant: A New Venture in Discovery and Collaboration. Inside the IAA: Newsletter of the International Anaplastology Association. 2014; 15(2): 13-14

Reprint with permission from the IAA.

I personally have experienced the challenges described above several times already throughout this short career. As an apprentice who is simultaneously working towards two certifications, my time in the clinic must be fully devoted to seeing patients. This leaves little time to pursue work that will lead to significant innovation. Also, as an apprentice who does not own the practice and makes (sometimes significantly) less income than a certified member, there is the issue of where to find financial support for this type of advancement. Although I am blessed to have an employer who is fully supportive of my desire to advance the field, that doesn't mean that I have access to the company finances. So, in the end, I believed it was best to create a separate entity from scratch and build directly towards that goal.

My other experience with funding challenges came from working with university colleagues. At an early stage of a multidisciplinary collaboration it became painfully obvious how much more they are able to achieve quickly due to the tools, funding, and resources they have access to. It seemed like my colleagues had the freedom of hiring students to work on the project full time and have access to the necessary equipment for testing. Back in November, during a discussion about how to present our project's budget in this WSEF grant application, my colleagues estimated a figure close to half a million dollars while I was apprehensive about even presenting anything over $10,000 because of my previous inquiries with the WSEF committee about the approximate range that the grant could support. Ultimately what I ended up doing was focusing the application on only a portion of the entire project (after presenting the big picture) to narrow down the budget to a more reasonable level.

When I raised money from my gofundme campaign, a significant amount went into the legal fees of starting PRL. Another significant amount went towards purchasing books, office supplies, building and maintaining this website. Books are an important source for research advancement, yet most books and journals specific to our field are so obscure that they are not even found in most university medical libraries. In the past, my students and colleagues often had a lot of trouble finding books about facial prosthetics in their library systems. I would have to look through my own incomplete journal collections and copy the contents for them. Needless to say, the first thing I did when PRL was founded was to purchase the entire volume of the ocularistry journal from 1972 to present. I have yet to acquire the complete volume of the anaplastology journals.

Conversely, I was having trouble finding higher level literature in other fields at the local public libraries. In response to this my colleagues and their departments have worked to grant me an "affiliate" status at the university for the purpose of accessing online journals and checking out books from the university libraries. It takes a lot of effort to work across disciplines.

Aside from having access to the proper background research materials, another challenge is having the right tools. We all custom-build tools at some point, but while my colleagues are able access higher end equipment in university labs, we would have to purchase equipment on our own. Again this comes down to how much an institution can spend on the tools versus how much an individual anaplastologist can spend. For example, my colleagues may have access to electron microscopes at the university, while I am building my own vacuum chamber to degas silicone so that I can achieve the same result by spending only $200 instead of purchasing a $800 one from a supply company.

We're talking about totally different standards when it comes to funding, but if we are working together on the same project then I'm expected to meet the same level of standards in my work. One of my tasks was to produce silicone samples for testing and I understand that an improperly made sample can compromise data. For now we are unfortunately limited to a small number of materials that I can produce into "perfect" samples and I am searching for funding so that I can purchase an expensive equipment that will allow better samples and more materials to be tested.

I am very grateful for the WSEF grant, which is going to take anaplastology in the right direction. However it is only a small step towards multidisciplinary and significant R&D progress for anaplastology. We need to keep sharing ideas and establish connections with other professionals because there is too few of us to do it alone.