by +Mike Poller – -The University of Miami has been awarded a prestigious $20 million grant that has the power and promise of transforming the institution, the community, and all of South Florida into a hub for turning scientific discoveries into practical solutions and treatments that improve the health of the diverse region — and beyond.
Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Clinical and Translational Science Award establishes the Miami Clinical and Translational Science Institute and places the University among an elite consortium of 60 nationally prominent research institutions charged with accelerating the translation of biomedical discoveries into new therapies for patients, engaging communities in clinical research, and training a new generation of researchers who are better prepared to resolve the complex health problems of an increasingly diverse nation.
Allocated over five years, the award also gives the University a competitive advantage for future national collaborative awards, many of which are open only to the 60 Clinical and Translational Science Institutes (CTSIs) across the nation.
Living and working in a community where 80 percent of the residents are ethnic or racial minorities, the scores of scientists, faculty, clinicians, and community-based researchers from the University and its award partners – Jackson Health System and the Miami VA Healthcare System – are uniquely prepared to turn insights gained in the laboratory or in the field into new therapies and strategies for a diverse population of patients.
“It is a great honor but it also makes great sense for UM to be a member of a research consortium that is building the nation’s new paradigm for translational health research,” said UM President Donna E. Shalala, who will co-chair the institute’s 25-member community advisory board with Marisel Losa, President and CEO of the Health Council of South Florida. “What better place to address complex health issues that disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities than Miami – where one of our own researchers discovered that Haitian women were dying from cervical cancer because they feared getting a Pap screen?”
Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Miller School, called the award “a giant step forward” for South Florida and UM. “With this extraordinary grant, the National Institutes of Health is investing in the promise of life-saving therapies and strategies that will result from our research and help us develop medicine for the 21st century,” the Dean said. “This is an incredibly proud moment for the University and our clinical partners. It signals a new era and puts us in the ranks of top-tier research institutions.”
Winning the highly competitive grant was a lengthy process, requiring a team effort and the critical backing of key community leaders. Leading the charge, U.S. Congresswomen Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz provided invaluable support. “Their advocacy for the work at UM was instrumental in this achievement,” Goldschmidt said. “We cannot thank them enough for their unwavering support.”
Equally funded by the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the Miami CTSI is the only institute headed by a Hispanic and dedicated to promoting diversity, ending health disparities, and training minorities in clinical and translational research. Led by the Cuban-born José Szapocznik, Ph.D., chair of epidemiology and public health at the University’s Miller School of Medicine, the Miami CTSI spans all UM campuses, bringing the resources, talent, scientific skills and expertise in internationally recognized schools, departments, institutes and centers under one umbrella.
Chief among the Miami CTSI’s missions is advancing “culturalized health sciences,” a term the UM grant team coined to reflect the University’s pursuit of research that is informed by the diverse culture of its faculty, staff, patients and study participants. The award will, for example, facilitate the development of more effective study recruitment strategies for minorities, and advance research through cultural knowledge and community engagement by leveraging the University’s expertise in research ethics. The UM Ethics Programs are a World Health Organization Collaborating Center in Ethics and Global Health Policy, the only one of its kind in the U.S.
“The more we incorporate knowledge derived from multiple racial/ethnic groups, the more rapidly we can understand and solve medical puzzles,” Szapocznik said. “Our goal is to catalyze research opportunities to mitigate the factors that affect the susceptibility, progression, and adverse consequence of disease in our majority-minority patient population.”
A number of initiatives crucial to the Miami CTSI’s missions already are under way. For example, the Miller School established several interdisciplinary centers including the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute and the Hussman Institute for Human Genomics and built a regulatory and quality monitoring core to continuously improve the quality of its clinical research. The Miller School also has established and expanded academic programs that prepare and support the next generation of clinical and translational researchers. They include a master’s degree program for clinical investigation that started class for students this year, and the nation’s largest combined four-year M.D./M.P.H. program, now in its second year.
With no formal walls, the Miami CTSI’s boundaries are unlimited, encompassing the array of clinical services UM’s UHealth system provides annually to 1.6 million patients who are unparalleled in cultural diversity; world-class research in critical areas of concern, including child health, obesity, diabetes, drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, spinal cord injury, cancer, and eye diseases; the globally recognized ethics program that houses the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative’s human subjects protection training program, the international standard for training in the protection of human research subjects; pioneering medical training initiatives throughout the hemisphere; and a decades-long record of exemplary community engagement and research.
“Ultimately, the measure of our success will be our ability to improve the health of our community,” said Jonelle E. Wright, Ph.D., associate director of the Miami CTSI, who spearheaded the grant application. “The CTSI will enable UM to better serve the health care needs of its diverse community while growing the size and quality of our translational research workforce and speeding the delivery of scientific discoveries to the clinic and the community.”
Representing the first systematic change in the nation’s approach to clinical research in 50 years, the CTSAconsortium was established in 2006 to meet NIH’s commitment to re-engineer the clinical research enterprise, one of the key objectives of the highly publicized NIH Roadmap for Medical Research.