Health And Wellness Science and Technology

Medical research leads U of A performance in latest U.S. News ranking of world’s best universities

Food science, agriculture, engineering and natural science also among 18 U of A subjects ranked in world’s top 100.

  • November 03, 2021
  • By Michael Brown

On the strength of its research in the medical sciences, the University of Alberta landed in the top 100 in 18 subject areas as part of the latest U.S. News & World Report Best Global Universities Rankings.

Leading the way with a second-place showing in Canada and 28th-place rank globally in gastroenterology and hepatology, up from 47th last year. Other stalwart medical science subject areas where the U of A excelled include cardiac and cardiovascular systems (57th), surgery (78th), clinical medicine (81st), oncology (88th) and microbiology (72nd), which moved up 29 spots from its rank of 101st last year.

Daniel C. Baumgart, professor and director of the Division of Gastroenterology, said the high ranking in gastroenterology and hepatology is no coincidence, but rather the result of the hard work of divisional faculty, successful participation in major national and international research consortia and team grants and a co-ordinated strategy to boost research output.

“This is not random. This is the result of what we've done as a division of gastroenterology over the past four years,” he said. “And we did it all despite COVID.”

Purposeful efforts pay off

The division of gastroenterology was restructured into six academic subunits to better reflect the diversity of research streams and align with the strategic direction of the university, specifically the Precision Health signature area.

The division also operates advanced fellowships within each of those areas — hepatology, gastrointestinal infections (i.e. hepatitis, Clostridium difficile and Helicobacter pylori), inflammatory bowel disease, endoscopy, nutrition and intestinal failure, and neurogastroenterology and motility.

The division also implemented an annual research day that brings in international visiting professors, who allow extra time for fellows and graduate students to pick their brains and discuss projects.

Baumgart also noted the division is involved in major current research programs focusing on portal hypertension and cirrhosis; H. pylori; C. difficile; nutrition, gut microbes and inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome; acute liver failure; autoimmune liver diseases; liver transplantation associated sarcopenia; Barrett’s esophagus; neurogastroenterology and motility; colorectal cancer; endoscopy; and digital health and artificial intelligence in inflammatory bowel disease.

“Since all of this came to be, the number of abstracts has gone up, the number of graduate students pursuing MS or PhD degrees has increased, the number of presentations at national and international conferences has gone up, the number of publications and the impact of the journals has increased and we were more successful with federal funding — demonstrating the quality of our work.”

He also noted that a reorganization of the division’s clinical care has allowed them more time to dedicate to academic work.

“The only way for our researchers to achieve this success is thanks to the collaboration and support of our clinical academic colleagues at all sites in Edmonton, as well as allied health professionals — clerks, nurses and dietitians — and academic and technical support staff.”

Brenda Hemmelgarn, dean of the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, applauded the 28th-place ranking in gastroenterology and hepatology, adding that part of the overall success is the research-intensive nature and focus of the faculty. This is reflected in the faculty’s strategic plan, to give the faculty’s seven institutes the tools to become global research hubs.

The research institutes include the Alberta Diabetes Institute, Alberta Transplant Institute, Cancer Research Institute of Northern Alberta, Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute, Women and Children's Health Research Institute and the Cardiovascular Research Institute.

“Our research institutes, closely aligned with our departments, are the engines of research and innovation,” said Hemmelgarn, who noted the achievements of the Women and Children's Health Research Institute, currently celebrating its 15th anniversary. “And they will only get stronger as the university’s Precision Health signature area continues to be woven into the fabric of each of them.”

She added the university’s research is only as good as its people, which include Nobel laureate Michael Houghton, Order of Canada recipients and dozens of Canada Research Chairs.

“The quality of people that we have here — and notably our early-career investigators — is outstanding and will always be a key focus of the faculty,” she said.

U of A strengths show in top 100

Food science and technology, and agricultural sciences ranked 49th and 58th respectively. Engineering disciplines — mechanical engineering (65), engineering (78), electrical and electronic engineering (84) and chemical engineering (97) — rounded out the subject areas where the U of A landed in the world’s top 100, as did biology and biochemistry, and plant and animal science (both 66), environment/ecology (70), economics and business (86), geosciences (94) and computer science (95).

Overall, the rankings had the U of A pencilled in at 135th globally and fifth nationally.

These subject-specific rankings are based on academic research performance in 43 subjects, of which the U of A was ranked in 38. U.S. News used bibliometric measures including publications and citations, as well as indicators for global and regional reputation in each specific subject.

Earlier in October, Maclean’s named the U of A’s nursing education tops in Canada and its education program third as part of the magazine’s 2022 Canadian University Rankings.

As well, the U of A landed at 99th globally, 35th in North America and fifth nationally in the 2021 QS Graduate Employability Rankings.

Other recent showings include a 91st-place showing in the 2021 NTU Ranking and a rank of 81st by the Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) — up 20 spots from the previous year. In both rankings, the U of A finished fourth in Canada.