The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston has been granted a five-year, $21.5 million Clinical Translational Sciences Award by the National Center for Research Resources of the National Institutes of Health. The award will fund a new initiative aimed at accelerating the translation of basic biomedical research into clinically useful knowledge and treatments - an accomplishment widely regarded as crucial to the future progress of medicine.
Under the auspices of UTMB’s newly-created Institute for Translational Sciences, twelve “key resources” will be established to support multidisciplinary teams of researchers pushing to transform biomedical discoveries into clinical innovations.
New applications of molecular biology to diagnosing and treating severe asthma, new therapies for burns, and new methods to fight aging-related muscle loss are among the targets of the first eight multidisciplinary translational teams to be organized.
Additional teams will be formed as the program matures, said Dr. Allan Brasier, director of the Institute of Translational Sciences and principal investigator for the CTSA.
“This is really exciting - it’s so important to get new translational research and new investigational teams up and running, and the CTSA will fund processes and core facilities that will be crucial to stimulating that development,” Brasier said. “We want to help people get over the major obstacles that they run into when they conduct these very challenging projects.”
Among the obstacles that Brasier noted are lack of access to advanced bioinformatics resources, inadequate statistical support, managing time and effort in cross-departmental collaborations, community engagement and the complex regulations involved in research with human subjects. The CTSA-funded key resources will fill these gaps, and will provide space and personnel for inpatient human studies in the UTMB Clinical Research Center as well as outpatient studies. CTSA resources will also encourage innovative translational research through support of pilot studies.
Finally, the CTSA will establish a training program for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty interested in conducting translational investigation, and create an “Academy of Mentors” to help faculty develop the skills needed to guide research teams and junior researchers through the new world of translational research.
“We want to be constantly promoting new teams doing new research strongly oriented around trainee support,” Brasier said. “We want to build a pipeline for development of both new patient-oriented research and new patient-oriented researchers.”
Currently, the NIH has funded 46 CTSA’s, most of which are networks involving multiple health centers. UTMB is collaborating on the bioinformatics component of its CTSA with the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
Brasier credited much of the success of UTMB’s CTSA application to the strong leadership team responsible for its development. He also acknowledged the university’s tradition of collaboration among researchers, identifying UTMB’s multidisciplinary Sealy Centers as crucial incubators for that collaborative culture over the last two decades. Finally, he gave a major share of the credit to the university’s administration, which he said recognized the importance of winning the CTSA and gave crucial assistance to the effort.
“President Callender and Provost Anderson stepped up and provided a substantial level of institutional support, which was important not only for obtaining the grant but also for going forward with the grant - we were fortunate that they were able to commit significant amounts of space and matching support. These were really key contributions,” Brasier said.
Dr. Garland D. Anderson, executive vice president and provost of UTMB, responded to Brasier’s comments with heartfelt congratulations for those contributing to the CTSA, as well as a reflection on what such a success meant for a university still recovering from the worst disaster in its history.
“I am extraordinarily proud of Dr. Brasier and the team of faculty he led in developing the CTSA application based on UTMB’s inherent strengths,” Anderson said. “This is a day of triumph for the entire UTMB family - a recognition from the NIH that we have made a remarkable recovery from Hurricane Ike, and a sign that they value the strength of our research faculty and programs.”