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NIH funding spurs expansion of clinical and translational research in Texas

Medical image for the Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences at UTHealth.
UTHealth is partnering with leading organizations in East and Southeast Texas to take medical discoveries from bench to bedside. (Image credit: UTHealth)

Bolstered by more than $37 million in renewed funding from the National Institutes of Health, four institutions in The University of Texas System, along with Rice University, are partnering to expand clinical and translational research, producing better health outcomes for those in Texas and across the nation.

The expansion, made possible by the five-year federal grant, builds upon the formative work of the Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences, which The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center first established in 2006 with one of the NIH’s inaugural Clinical and Translational Science Awards.

By adding The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, and Rice University, the center’s reach will now extend from Houston up through East Texas and down through the Rio Grande Valley. The center will emphasize clinical studies designed to improve medical outcomes for all populations, including children, older adults, Hispanics, African Americans, and LGBTQ people who have been historically underrepresented in research. One of the many areas of research will focus on non-medical opioid use.

“Working with our partners across the state, UTHealth will continue to improve the efficiency, quality, and impact of translational research,” said Giuseppe N. Colasurdo, MD, UTHealth president and Alkek-Williams Distinguished Chair. “This collaboration will enable our researchers to accelerate the discovery and delivery of new, targeted treatments that will improve patient outcomes and drive innovation across the health care system.”

Peter WT Pisters, MD, president of MD Anderson, said, “Translational research defines the path from bench to bedside and is a critical step in our ongoing efforts to accelerate innovation and discovery for the benefit of the patients we serve. Renewed support for the Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences and the exciting addition of new collaborators will magnify the impact of our joint program.”

The principal investigators are David McPherson, MD, chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, and Daniel Karp, MD, professor of Investigational Cancer Therapeutics at MD Anderson. Jiajie Zhang, PhD, dean of UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics, and Robert Bast, vice president for translational research at MD Anderson, serve as co-principal investigators. Michael Blackburn, PhD, is principal investigator for the National Research Services Award for Graduate Student Training, which is funded as a separate core grant under the parent award. Charles “Trey” Miller III, PhD, associate vice president of clinical research and health care quality at UTHealth, is principal investigator for the Institutional Career Development Program for faculty. Maureen Goode, PhD, is the administrative director of the UTHealth Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences.

“This is the third renewal of our grant, so we’re calling this Version 3.0,” McPherson said. “Expanding the center to include three more institutions will give us the ability to conduct clinical research over a larger portion of Texas, with the opportunity to reach millions of patients with unique medical needs.”

Karp said the grant is the culmination of two years of work by a dedicated team focused on translating important scientific ideas into relevant community-oriented research. “There’s also a powerful education and training element of this grant that promotes the careers of people across disciplines who want to develop the best new translational research,” Karp said.

Much of the work will be done through established Clinical Research Units at Memorial Hermann Health System, Harris Health’s Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital, MD Anderson Cancer Center, UT Health Science Center at Tyler, and UTHealth School of Public Health in Brownsville.

Blackburn, executive vice president and chief academic officer at UTHealth, said the ultimate goal of improving the health of individuals will be achieved through a number of existing programs and new initiatives.

“We greatly appreciate the hard work of the faculty and the collaborative spirit that will have such a profound impact on the health on Texans,” Blackburn said.

A learning health care component will aim to improve patient outcomes by integrating learning into physicians’ everyday practice and applying novel methods of identifying best therapies, Blackburn said.

A special component of the grant is focused on the career development of promising young faculty members who propose clinical or translational research of exemplary quality.  Eight faculty members have already been selected for career development awards and five others for Learning Health Care Awards to be funded by the grant or institutional matching funds.  Jon Tyson, MD, MPH, vice dean for clinical research at McGovern Medical School, notes, "A reason we were selected for this award is the exceptional track record of our previous awardees in conducting research that has advanced patient care and outcomes." 

Barbara J. Stoll, MD, dean of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, said, “This is an amazing opportunity for clinical and translational research to grow in a thoughtful and strategic way under the guidance of a collective of experts. We are fortunate to be part of this major national collaborative, with the power to forge a remarkable future for clinical and translational research and to make a meaningful impact on the lives of the patients and families we serve.”

Media inquiries: 713-500-3030

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