"We're now part of a consortium nationally which really will transform clinical research and translational research from bench to bedside," says Harry P. Selker, a cardiologist who is principal investigator for the Tufts Clinical and Translational Science Institute.
Tufts University and Tufts Medical Center have won a $20 million federal grant to streamline the process of turning laboratory research discoveries into real-world treatments for patients.
The Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will provide funds over five years for the new Tufts Clinical and Translational Science Institute.
With the institute as a resource, researchers from the School of Medicine and across the university will work with health-care organizations, community groups and medical companies to translate scientific breakthroughs into widely used drugs, therapies and good clinical practices.
Tufts was one of 14 academic health-care organizations in 11 states to receive CTSAs this May. In 2012, when the program is fully implemented, approximately 60 CTSAs will be included in the project, with an annual budget of $500 million.
Harry P. Selker, a cardiologist and researcher who serves as principal investigator for the Tufts Clinical and Translational Science Institute, describes this as a visionary direction for the NIH. Although the NIH contributes about $30 billion a year to biomedical research in the United States, "there's not much that seems to come out of it for the public's benefit, and Congress feels that way, too," he says.
The CTSA system provides something "much broader, cross-cutting and multidisciplinary," says Selker, a professor at the medical school and director of the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences' clinical research program. "We're now part of a consortium nationally which really will transform clinical research and translational research from bench to bedside."
The Tufts institute will serve as a "virtual home" where scientists can get help with their research, as well as an education program for the next generation of biomedical scientists. "If we're going to change the way research is done, we have to, in fact, transform the way we train researchers," Selker says.
Part of that training involves collaboration. In addition to the School of Medicine, the institute will assist researchers at Tufts' other health sciences schools: the Sackler School, the School of Dental Medicine, the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. The School of Arts & Sciences, the School of Engineering and the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service are also included in the award.
The institute has also partnered with eight other Tufts-affiliated hospitals, two health plans, a score of community and academic organizations (from the Framingham Heart Study to the Boston Museum of Science) and a handful of private-sector companies, including Pfizer, Inc. and Millennium Pharmaceuticals.
Tufts' history of working across disciplines and with local communities-"we're much more the extrovert," Selker says-makes it stand out among the other CTSA recipients. "We can be innovative in pulling together researchers from different schools, from different affiliated hospitals, and draw in people from other institutions outside of Tufts," says Provost and Senior Vice President Jamshed Bharucha.
For example, to help set research priorities, institute members will have regular meetings with the community organizations to find out what health needs they see.
Selker says applying for the grant was itself an exercise in collaboration. More than 200 people at Tufts and elsewhere worked on the application over the last three years.
"This is the short version, for those of you who want to read it," he says, waving an inches-thick tome. "The long version is 1,000-plus pages."
Michael Rosenblatt, dean of the School of Medicine, says that for many years Tufts has been an important training ground for aspiring researchers who go on to be leaders in the field. "So when the NIH about three years ago announced it was going to change in a fundamental way the format for clinical research and training, it was very important for us to mobilize and move into a leadership position as part of that new initiative." This grant, he says, is a measure of that success.
"We've now joined a group," Rosenblatt says, "a true vanguard of institutions that will transform research in the United States."
Julie Flaherty may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.