UF CTSI receives $1.25 million to advance clinical research and personalized medicine

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By Claire Baralt

The University of Florida Clinical and Translational Science Institute has received three grants totaling $1.25 million from the National Institutes of Health to support research that will expand opportunities to conduct community-based clinical research in Florida, offer personalized medicine to patients and improve clinical trial design. The three projects involve teams of researchers from multiple colleges at UF as well as other universities, including Florida State University.

“Our efforts during the CTSI’s first two years to transform the university’s ability to conduct translational research have created fertile ground for new opportunities and partnerships,” said Dr. David Nelson, director of the UF CTSI. “These funds allow us to bring new resources and collaborators to our goal of translating research into improved health for patients in Florida and beyond.”

The first grant of $472,675 will help accelerate and expand a novel UF-FSU partnership to establish a statewide network that will connect communities with teams of clinical scientists, physicians and physicians-in-training. The partnership is launching two pilot projects that will begin collecting data this summer in Daytona Beach, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Orlando and Tallahassee. The projects will assess and monitor mild traumatic brain injury and health risk behaviors among youth. The new grant almost doubles the state’s initial investment of $600,000 in the partnership through the 2010 New Florida Initiative.

“This infusion of new resources will further strengthen the UF-FSU partnership and its ability to grow as we put community-based health care research to work for Floridians,” said Dr. Michael Muszynski, associate dean for clinical research at the FSU College of Medicine. Muszynski is a collaborator on the new grant with UF lead investigators Russell Bauer, a professor and chair of the department of clinical and health psychology in the College of Public Health and Health Professions; and Elizabeth Shenkman, a professor and chair of the department of health outcomes and policy in the College of Medicine.

The second award of $499,920 will support the creation of a personalized medicine program at UF and replication of the program at Stanford University. In the burgeoning field of personalized medicine, physicians use genetic data to determine the most effective treatments for individual patients, particularly with regard to how a patient’s genetic makeup affects the body’s response to different medications. Lead investigator Julie A. Johnson, a UF professor and chair of pharmacotherapy and translational research in the College of Pharmacy, will head a multidisciplinary team to develop a system using genetic information to create alerts in a patient’s electronic medical record. These alerts will help inform treatment decisions about a drug used to prevent strokes and heart attacks.

Lastly, a $281,785 grant will fund a collaborative project involving biostatisticians and clinical scientists at UF and the University of Iowa to assess, develop and disseminate guidelines for the use of adaptive trial designs in comparative effectiveness research, which compares the results of one approach for managing a condition to the results of other approaches. A team of investigators from the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, UF College of Medicine and University of Iowa will be led by John A. Kairalla, an assistant professor in the department of biostatistics at UF. This project will help address a national need to understand the most efficient and cost-effective ways for gathering evidence in studies designed to identify the most effective ways to treat patients.

As a 2009 recipient of a five-year, nearly $26 million Clinical and Translational Science Award from the NIH’s National Center for Research Resources, the UF CTSI was eligible to compete for supplemental funding to undertake one-year projects that advance priority topics identified by the National Center for Research Resources. In December, the 55 biomedical research institutes that constituted the national CTSA consortium were invited to apply for a maximum of three grants. Grants were awarded on the basis of merit, proposed project impact, plans for sustainability, applicability to the goals of the CTSA program and availability of funding. The UF CTSI is one of a select number of institutions that has been awarded funding for all three of its applications.

“These grants are a reflection of the progress we’re making to improve our ability to speed scientific discoveries to patients,” said Dr. David S. Guzick, senior vice president for health affairs and president of the UF&Shands Health System. “By continuing to strengthen the clinical research capacity of the university and our partners throughout the state, we are securing a place and a voice for Florida in shaping the future of medicine.”