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Research: The Big Picture

Dr. Murphy in his lab interacting with a technologist

Timothy Murphy, MD, UB Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Microbiology, left, heads the Clinical Translational Research Center and the CTSA steering committee.

Published September 29, 2010

Scientists and administrators across campus are putting finishing touches on an application due October 14 for a Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

CTSA awards, with budgets of $20 million over five years, are intended to dramatically spur translational and clinical research, overcoming the barrier that exists between basic science and the ability to move discoveries to patients’ bedsides or other clinical settings. Competition for these awards is intense. Fifty-five CTSA applications have been funded since 2006, with plans to confer a total of 60 awards nationally; in addition, some of the funded awards are coming up for competitive renewals. Roughly half of the nation’s 130 medical schools will have a CTSA, and UB aspires to be part of this elite grouping. It would position the university as part of a national consortium, spurring collaboration with other institutions and leveraging more funding to expand UB’s clinical research capabilities.

UB officials are very hopeful of receiving a CTSA award. Whatever the outcome, however, the heart of the application is here to stay: the Buffalo Clinical and Translational Research Center (Buffalo CTRC), accompanied by a consortium of all five UB health sciences schools plus several Western New York health care partners, including Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute.

“If we receive the $20 million we’ll be able to do a lot more with the Buffalo Clinical and Translational Research Center,” affirms Timothy Murphy, MD, UB Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Microbiology, who heads the Buffalo CTRC. “But the infrastructure and the exciting collaborations are happening already and will continue to happen either way. They’ll just happen in a bigger way if we get the CTSA.”

Kenneth Tramposch, PhD, associate vice president for research and associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology, says the CTSA consortium is part of a move to speed translation of basic science discoveries into real-world health care solutions. “CTSAs create an academic home for clinical and translational research for an entire region,” he says. “These centers will also be instrumental in training the next generation of clinical and translational researchers—a recognized national need of critical importance for advancing human health.”

Michael E. Cain, MD, dean of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, created a CTSA steering committee 20 months ago and named Murphy, the medical school’s senior associate dean for clinical research, to head it.

“Success in acquiring a CTSA,” says Cain, “will enable UB to develop the research infrastructure required to recruit and retain the best physician-scientists, be more competitive for pioneering research programs, network with other outstanding institutions, engage community physicians in new educational and research programs, and better train the next generation of clinical investigators.

“Designation as an NIH Clinical and Translational Science Institute will further establish UB as an institution that strives to achieve excellence through collaboration and cooperation, and fulfills a key goal of the UB 2020 Health and Wellness Across the Lifespan strategic strength.”

“Different fields and disciplines of science and medicine have advanced so much that barriers have been created among them,” Murphy explains. “We want to reduce barriers not only among disciplines, but also among institutions. And we can do better here in Buffalo if we team up, reduce redundancy and take advantage of one another’s expertise.”

The Buffalo CTRC will occupy the top four floors of a 10-story building being built downtown by UB and Kaleida Health; it will house research laboratories of the major clinical departments in UB’s health sciences schools. Moreover, it will feature state-of the-art laboratories and support space for 32 principal investigators with translational research programs. Other activities and personnel coordinated by the infrastructure of the Buffalo CTRC will be dispersed throughout UB and across the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

Jean Wactawski-Wende, PhD, vice provost for strategic initiatives and professor of social and preventive medicine, will lead participant and clinical interactions and resources for the Clinical Research Center, part of the Buffalo CTRC.

She’s enthusiastic about the centralized resources and what they will mean for heightened investigations. “I expect that we will support all types of clinical research, including conducting randomized clinical trials,” Wactawski-Wende says. “We will have in place directors and staff who are very experienced in human subjects’ research and will assist investigators who use the facility with study design and planning, recruitment of participants, conducting study visits, retaining participants in studies and assessing study outcomes.”

Murphy points out that the structure and integrated components of the Buffalo CTRC will help investigators communicate more effectively, systematically pooling their expertise and enabling access to centralized instruction and regulatory know-how, for instance. Providing specific training for clinical and translational research is also critical to obtaining a CTSA. “If you look at the NIH vision, one of the problems or barriers to performing really good clinical and translational research is there aren’t enough people doing it and trained to do it,” Murphy says

In response to this requirement, UB has developed a new interdisciplinary MS degree in clinical research. Based in the School of Public Health and Health Professions, it includes courses from all five UB health sciences schools plus Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

In addition to UB’s five health sciences schools, other members of the Buffalo Translational Consortium (BTC) are Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Great Lakes Health System of Western New York, UBMD, Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, UB’s Research Institute on Addictions, and UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences.