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Collaboration scores $46 million to improve region’s health

With a new federal grant totaling $46 million, Greater Cleveland has again demonstrated the power of partnership in maintaining the region as a medical powerhouse.

The commitment marks the third consecutive time that Case Western Reserve University has received significant funding to support its collaboration with Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth Medical Center, University Hospitals and the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center. Including this latest award, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has invested nearly $175 million in the effort since 2007.

“Our thriving inter-institutional relationship among researchers is now well-established, and the fruits of that enterprise are paying off in a big way,” said School of Medicine Dean Pamela B. Davis, now an associate principal investigator on the grant after being its leader from 2007 through 2015. “This renewal grant is testimony to the idea that when experts are brought together from different institutions, and you provide them with the necessary resources, many of the complex problems facing medical science and health care today can be addressed.”

The NIH’s Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) program seeks to help speed research breakthroughs to help patients, whether through direct interventions, changes in practice guidelines, or other advances. By supporting cooperation among multiple organizations, the program increases both the number and diversity of the researchers and patients involved—both of which increase the likelihood of discoveries with meaningful practical impact.

Achievements of the last decade include:

  • New, evidence-based guidelines that have lowered recommended blood pressure readings (research that involved, among others nationwide, Case Western Reserve, University Hospitals, and the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center);
  • Patented algorithms that identify which breast cancer patients are candidates for hormonal therapy alone and which would also benefit from chemotherapy (research involving, among others nationwide, the Case School of Engineering);
  • Discovery of a connection between certain gut flora and risks of cardiovascular disease (involving, among others nationwide, Cleveland Clinic);
  • A portable, rapid, battery-operated test device for detecting malaria and sickle cell disease from a single drop of blood (involving CWRU’s medical school and physics department);
  • A prototype software program that helps families make difficult end-of-life decisions (involving CWRU’s Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing); and
  • A new type of magnetic resonance imaging to track the effect of drugs on multiple sclerosis (involving CWRU).

While past accomplishments play a role in securing CTSA renewals, those evaluating each round of applications also assess of the value of proposed uses of new funds. The number of regions receiving awards has decreased over the years, as have the size of many grants.

“We are honored that the NIH recognized our outstanding multi-institutional biomedical research team in Cleveland with such a significant award,” said Serpil Erzurum, chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute and an associate principal investigator for the full award. “This collaborative CTSA grant will expedite the important work of our researchers as they translate discoveries to improve the health of patients in Northeast Ohio and beyond.”

As technologies have evolved since the first CTSA grants, so too have activities within this region and others. For example, researchers have been able to expand and deepen their analyses of medical data to inform approaches to treatment and care. MetroHealth’s David Kaelber is co-lead of the informatics part of the CTSA collaboration.

“The CTSA funding allows MetroHealth to use its informatics and nearly 20 years of electronic health record infrastructure to support researchers in Cleveland and around the country to make groundbreaking discoveries,” said Kaelber, the hospital’s chief medical informatics officer and a CWRU professor.

Meanwhile, Lara Jehi, research director of Cleveland Clinic’s Epilepsy Center, will co-lead the region’s participation in a national network of CTSA programs’ clinical trials. She and her local colleagues will provide operational support through a robust, centralized infrastructure focused on improving recruitment and streamlining research processes.

Raed Dweik, interim chair of Cleveland Clinic Respiratory Institute, will lead the portion of the grant that supports training of early-stage clinical and translational career research investigators. This mentored training program supports and enhances career development to prepare the next generation of researchers from all disciplines to lead successful, cutting-edge research programs.

Clifford Harding, chair of pathology at CWRU’s School of Medicine, will lead the portion of the grant that provides students considering clinical and translational research meaningful experiences in this area. Harding designed and leads the school’s training program for Immunology and Cancer Biology and also directs the Medical Scientist Training Program.

Northeast Ohio’s consortium also works to raise awareness of health disparities and improving the health of residents in Cleveland’s inner-city neighborhoods. Among the initiatives are support of training for providers who will work in underserved areas and programs that target infant mortality and childhood obesity.

“Case Western Reserve’s CTSC program will continue to provide the best environment to conduct translational research and to develop the next generation of the translational workforce,” said Michael Konstan, vice dean for translational research at the School of Medicine, the program’s overall principal investigator, and vice chair of clinical research at UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, “ultimately raising the stature of Cleveland as a major contributor to improving human health not only in our region, but nationwide.”

Mark Chance, the medical school’s vice dean for research, also is an associate principal investigator on the award.