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TMC institutions get $20 million renewal grant for translational medicine center

In 2006, three Texas Medical Center institutions were among the first in the nation to receive a Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to accelerate the translation of laboratory discoveries into patient treatments. That grant has been renewed for another 5 years.

The grant was used to establish the Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences (CCTS ), which is operated by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.

Headquartered at UTHealth, the center is one of 60 established through the NIH's CTSA program to fast-track research development, train a new generation of researchers and engage communities in clinical research. In the latest grant, the NIH is providing $20 million for the center's infrastructure with participating institutions contributing more than $25 million in matching funds.

"The CTSA brings institutions and knowledge together, and UTHealth is proud to be a keystone in that process," said Giuseppe Colasurdo, M.D., president ad interim of UTHealth. "This grant renewal is vital to enhancing collaboration - thereby fostering innovation and outcomes."

David McPherson, M.D., executive director and co-principal investigator of the CCTS, chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine at the UTHealth Medical School and medical director of the Heart & Vascular Institute at Memorial Hermann-TMC, said, "We are fortunate to be the recipient of this grant in this time of budget restraints."

Highlights of the center's first 5 years include support of studies demonstrating the benefit of a drug that treats blindness in premature babies, showing that body cooling reduces mortality of infants with asphyxia, targeting delivery of new drugs directly to disease sites and administering bone marrow-derived stem cells to improve recovery from stroke, said Maureen Goode, Ph.D., the administrative director of the CCTS.

CCTS-supported research also helped establish that delivering intensive care to extremely premature infants should not be solely based on the infant's gestational age and that phototherapy reduces impairment in extremely low birth weight babies.

Since it was established, the CCTS has helped researchers produce more than 2,500 research publications and is working with residents of the Houston area and Brownsville to address health issues. The CCTS community engagement component is working to accelerate the adoption of programs with evidence of effectiveness and to conduct research on obesity-reduction strategies that can be disseminated broadly. "Our team will work closely with the community and fellow researchers in a participatory approach to build capacity for the translation of science into practice settings such as community clinics and nonprofit organizations" said Belinda Reininger, Dr.PH, co-leader of the CCTS community engagement component and associate professor at The University of Texas School of Public Health Brownsville Regional Campus, a part of UTHealth. "The focus of the CCTS community engagement component is to work with underserved populations."

The CCTS is collaborating with the other three UT System institutions that have CTSA awards and has formed the Texas Regional CTSA Consortium, which includes the translational medicine programs at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. The UTHealth-based CCTS is providing research services to Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center -El Paso, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler and Baylor College of Medicine as well.

"The CCTS provides a terrific platform for scientists from many disciplines to work together and create powerful synergies. Ultimately the desire is to expedite the process of bringing new science to the patient's bedside," said Roberta Ness, M.D., M.P.H., co-investigator of the CCTS, dean and M. David Low Chair in Public Health at the UT School of Public Health and vice president of innovation at UTHealth.

It can take years before a drug discovery makes it to your local pharmacy. There are basic disease studies that must be performed. There are trials with patients. It must be approved the Food and Drug Administration. And then, a company must agree to manufacture it.

The CTSA awards were created to expedite the process by identifying the obstacles that impede the transformation of basic research discoveries into drugs, treatments or methods for prevention. As an example of a way to promote collaboration among institutions, officials in the UT System have reached an agreement that facilitates multi-site studies at the system's 15 institutions.

"At MD Anderson, the grant has provided critical laboratory support for our Clinical and Translational Research Center," said Daniel Karp, M.D., who is a co-principal investigator of CCTS and a professor in MD Anderson Cancer Center's Department of Investigational Cancer Therapeutics. "The CTSA has also helped support innovations in bioinformatics, robust tumor banking and important community initiatives - especially in the critical areas of nutrition, obesity and liver disease."

"In the previous five years, we saw much progress that has provided direct benefit for our patients, strengthened our research infrastructure and built important bridges between our thought leaders," Karp said. "This renewal will allow us to go forward and accelerate the contributions of our team science."

Robert C. Bast, Jr., M.D., co- investigator for the CTSA program at UTHealth and vice president for Translational Research at MD Anderson Cancer Center, said, "Renewal of this grant allows the CTSA to continue to encourage collaboration among institutions to translate our understanding of disease at the level of molecules and cells to improve the lives of our patients."

Divided into 12 components that support different aspects of the discovery process, the CCTS supports innovative clinical and translational projects proposed by faculty and students at UTHealth, MD Anderson Cancer Center and other institutions. CCTS also supports work at other UTHealth research centers, including one dedicated to improving the care of people with injuries.

"The research and breakthroughs made by the CCTS have made significant improvements and positive impacts on patient care in our hospital and clinics," said Craig Cordola, chief executive officer of Memorial Hermann-TMC. "We are very grateful for the renewal of this grant and look forward to the continued progress from this collaboration."

The CCTS supports young investigators and students by providing salary and mentors who assist them with research. The center provides the statistical support necessary to manage and analyze complex multi-variable projects.

The training of graduate students in translational research is conducted in part by The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, which is operated by UTHealth and MD Anderson Cancer Center. "The students get to conduct research in the laboratories of scientists at both institutions," said UTHealth Biochemistry Department Vice Chair Michael Blackburn, Ph.D., who along with Michelle Barton, Ph.D., a professor of biochemistry at MD Anderson Cancer Center, is jointly serving as dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

The CCTS facilitates research at three Clinical Research Units (CRUs). Staffed by experienced research nurses and phlebotomists, the CRUs provide dedicated space and equipment for clinical research. The CRUs are located at Memorial Hermann-TMC, MD Anderson Cancer Center and Valley Baptist Medical Center in Brownsville.

Researchers also can utilize the services of a genetics core laboratory, which provides DNA harvesting, DNA genotyping and DNA sequencing. Other services include the microarray core laboratory, a proteomics core laboratory, the quantitative genomics core laboratory and imaging facilities.

CCTS components include: Administration; Pilot and Collaborative Translational and Clinical Studies; Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Research Design; Participant and Clinical Interaction Resources; Translational Technologies and Resources; Ethics and Advocacy; Novel and Emerging Clinical and Translational Methodologies; Biomedical Informatics; Regulatory Knowledge and Support; Community Engagement; Research Education, Training and Career Development; and the Biobank.


Contact: Robert Cahill
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

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TMC institutions get $20 million renewal grant for translational medicine center
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