CTSC looks forward to future after Institute of Medicine’s recommendations

When Congressional leaders asked the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to assess the effectiveness and impact of the Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) program, grant recipients across the country waited anxiously to see if the evaluation would find value in the innovative approach to bringing discoveries out to patients.

They needn’t have worried.

Late last month, the prestigious Institute of Medicine (IOM) gave its approval to the 7-year-old effort, issuing a 179-page analysis that applauds both the aims and outcomes of the CTSA.

“The CTSA program has made some remarkable progress to date and has great potential to further advance clinical and translational science and improve human health,” the review committee noted. “We look forward to seeing this potential fully realized in the coming years.”

Launched in 2006, the CTSA program seeks to advance laboratory breakthroughs into solutions for patients. Institutional CTSA awards are its centerpiece, providing academic homes for translational sciences and supporting research resources needed to improve the quality and efficiency of all phases of translational research. Each institution that receives a grant determines how best to coordinate and collaborate to meet its respective goals.

The program has made awards to 61 academic health centers across the country, including the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve. The medical school won its first CTSA grant in 2007; at the time, the $64 million award stood as the largest-ever in Northeast Ohio.

For the past six years, the medical school has worked with its partner institutions, which include Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth System, University Hospitals Case Medical Center and Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, under the Clinical and Translational Science Collaborative (CTSC) of Cleveland. In 2012, the NIH renewed Case Western Reserve’s grant, this time increasing the amount to $64.6 million.

Some of the most significant successes that contributed to the grant renewal were agreements among institutions that enable scientists and physicians to pursue research more easily across multiple hospitals and health care centers—enhancing the size and diversity of potential patient pools. Such cooperation also involved significant technological investments to enable systems at different sites to work together in more seamless ways.

Finally, this spirit of teamwork extended to community organizations as well. The partners together launched nearly a dozen networks aimed at addressing key community health challenges, among them obesity, diabetes and hypertension. The award not only enabled neighborhood-based research, but also provided training to scientists, physicians and community leaders about ways they could work together more effectively to improve the health of residents.

Pamela Davis, dean of the School of Medicine and vice president for medical affairs at Case Western Reserve University, is the principal investigator for the CTSA. Richard Rudick, vice chairman of research and development in the Neurological Institute at Cleveland Clinic, is the grant’s co-principal investigator. In all, the CTSC has assisted more than 1,500 faculty/investigators for more than 2,000 separate core services. In addition, more than 120 clinical scholars have entered the Research Education Training Programs.

“Clinical and translational research is an emerging discipline. It requires a clinical perspective and commitment to tackle important health issues. This includes the ability to assemble and work within multidisciplinary teams, and expertise in clinical or translational research methodology,” Rudick said. “The CTSC in Cleveland has promoted collaboration across disciplines, institutions and career development for future clinical and translational research leaders. We have complete confidence that this will translate into better health for our community and nation.”

In addition to praising the CTSA program, the IOM report made several recommendations for the program’s governance and expansion. Some of the suggestions involve activities the medical school already pursues, such as an emphasis on child health and active community engagement.

“The IOM’s recommendations are particularly encouraging for us,” explained Davis. “One of the foundational beliefs at the School of Medicine is our desire to reach out to the community, and our pediatric research remains at the forefront of medical inquiry.”