The University of Rochester Medical Center has been awarded more than $19 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue programs that remove hurdles in the process of applying medical research to patient treatment and population health. The award will support “bench-to-bedside” research and is the Medical Center’s third consecutive translational science award, bringing total funding from these grants to almost $86 million.
The University of Rochester Clinical and Translational Science Institute (UR CTSI) was one of the first 12 institutions in the nation to receive a Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA), a program which was established by the NIH’s Center for Advancing Translational Science in 2006 to help get new therapies to patients faster and to improve the health of the general population. In addition to the new funding, the UR CTSI has provided research support to investigators across the University that aided them in collectively obtaining nearly $58 million of further NIH funding over the past decade.
“Ten years ago the University of Rochester was catapulted to the forefront of the National Institutes of Health’s initiative to reengineer our nation’s biomedical research enterprise,” said Joel Seligman, president and CEO of the University of Rochester. “This award marks another important milestone in our efforts to bring together the scientific talent, the resources, and the expertise necessary to advance medicine and improve health.”
“The University of Rochester is an anchor of innovation that has helped our community become a national leader in cutting-edge research,” said U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter. “I’m pleased that the university’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute will be receiving more than $19 million over the next four years to keep its teams of ground-breaking researchers on the job. This is a very substantial federal investment that will help the university continue translating the latest research into lifesaving treatment.”
The development of the UR CTSI was also the catalyst that led to the construction of the Saunders Research Building, which was completed in 2011 with $50 million New York State funding. The 200,000-square-foot space was built to provide a home for clinical and translational research. The building was named in recognition of E. Phillip Saunders, whose long-standing commitment to medical research at URMC and generous $10 million gift to the CTSI has been instrumental in fostering muscular dystrophy, cancer, and translational biomedical research.
“Translational medicine represents the bridge between new scientific discoveries and better health and the UR CTSI will continue to drive both research growth and improvements in patient care both in Rochester and beyond,” said Mark Taubman, M.D., CEO of the University of Rochester Medical Center and dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry. “This new grant is a testament to the Medical Center’s national leadership in this field and our commitment to harness biomedical research to improve health.”
Since its inception in 2006, the UR CTSI has provided an infrastructure to support translational research – offering education, funding, and consultation on research-related issues for scientists at all stages of their careers. In the next four years, the institute will continue that programming with renewed focus on applying innovative approaches and technologies to improving population health, which relies heavily on improving the university’s capacity to analyze large, health care datasets, and encouraging scientists to work in teams.
“With this $19 million federal investment, we are putting the University of Rochester on the frontline of our nation’s drive to cure disease,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “We will take the discoveries made in Rochester's Clinical and Translational Science Institute from the laboratory and turn them into actual treatments for patients that will save lives and improve quality of life. Starting a decade ago the UR CTSI was one of only a dozen institutions to be selected for a federal Clinical and Translational Science Award, and now this new funding will ensure their work can continue over the next four years.”
“These federal funds will help ensure that the University of Rochester can continue to be one of the most innovative and cutting-edge research institutions in the country,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “The work taking place at the Clinical and Translational Science Institute is so important, and I was proud to fight for this funding. I will continue to speak out in the Senate to make sure that our research communities have the tools and resources they need to do their work well.”
One of the main goals of the UR CTSI and the new grant goes beyond applying scientific knowledge to the care of individual patients to improving the health of the population as a whole. For instance, clinical trials have generated evidence about how to help people quit smoking, but translating that evidence into a clear impact on the population was a challenge. Population health efforts helped change the behavior of clinicians and community members, leading to greater use of available interventions. Now, smoking cessation policies are considered a great population health success with smoking rates in decline and many lives saved.
“Working in population health is about working with the community instead of on the community,” said Nancy M. Bennett, M.D., M.S., CTSI co-director, and director of the URMC Center for Community Health.
Bennett believes that studying population health primarily concerns engaging patients and research participants. At the UR CTSI, this engagement often occurs directly – via the Internet or a mobile application. This reduces some major barriers to participating in health care and related research, enabling anyone to have a meaningful impact on the research process, from deciding research questions to designing studies.
Often answers to complex health challenges are found in overwhelmingly large sets of information that confound traditional data handling systems. Informatics, the study of information processing and engineering of new data handling systems, is a key element of population health science and is a burgeoning area of study in general.
The UR CTSI Biomedical Informatics Team partners with the many informatics centers around the University of Rochester, including the new Goergen Institute for Data Science – a New York State Center of Excellence – to help researchers solve issues in health care-related “big data.” The team provides consultation and on-line tools to help researchers plan data collection, develop new data handling systems, manage data, and create simple ways of using pre-existing data.
“We are doing research in an incredible time,” said Martin Zand, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the CTSI, professor of Medicine at URMC, and director of the Rochester Center for Health Informatics. “Our ability to generate and assemble data has far outstripped any single researcher’s ability to analyze that data.”
The recent UR CTSI health care data hack-a-thon exemplified how scientists working in teams can use informatics to help improve population health. At the event, teams of scientists dug into large, publicly available datasets to identify health care providers who were over prescribing narcotics, while others built a model to predict preventable hospital readmissions within 30 days of a patient’s medical procedure.
Fostering and refining this sort of “team science” approach to research is another core value of the UR CTSI that is reflected even in its leadership structure.
“The fact that the CTSI is led by three co-directors really demonstrates our commitment to team science,” said Karl Kieburtz, M.D., M.P.H., CTSI co-director and senior associate dean for Clinical Research for the School of Medicine and Dentistry.
Progress in medical research relies on active coordination and collaboration among researchers - sharing their ideas and their breakthroughs across disciplines. When scientists from different backgrounds and stages of the translational process (from molecules to populations) work together to answer scientific questions, healthcare improves and the entire community benefits.
With this new round of funding, the UR CTSI will help advance medicine by helping teams of researchers connect, learn, and get what they need to work faster and more efficiently.
The University of Rochester Medical Center is home to approximately 3,000 individuals who conduct research on everything from cancer to heart disease to Parkinson's, pandemic influenza, and autism. Spread across many centers, institutes, and labs, our scientists have developed therapies that have improved human health locally, in the region, and across the globe. To learn more visit www.urmc.rochester.edu/research