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IIMS-CTSA receives funding award


The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences announced the $22.7 million Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) to the Health Science Center and the South Texas CTSA Consortium. CTSAs improve the health status of communities by accelerating scientific discoveries and public health applications, fostering team science, and expanding and diversifying the workforce of translational biomedical scientists.


The award is for five years through 2018 and follows a just-concluded CTSA that began in 2008. The Health Science Center is one of 61 U.S. institutions with the CTSA designation.


“I am very proud of the efforts of UT Health Science Center faculty and staff and of all of our CTSA partners in conducting a program of this magnitude, which by translating scientific research to practical applications is making lives better in our region’s communities,” said William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP, president of the Health Science Center. “In San Antonio’s continuing drive to become one of the country’s top bioscience cities, retaining our CTSA designation is an essential element.”


The CTSA is administered through the Institute for Integration of Medicine and Science (IIMS) established at the Health Science Center in 2006. IIMS focuses on prevalent challenges in South Texas, including the health needs of an underserved Hispanic population, health issues facing active-duty military and veteran populations, and limitations in the translational science workforce. IIMS has expanded clinical research units from San Antonio to the Rio Grande Valley, increased the number of practice-based research networks that focus on diverse patient populations, and established new joint translational science doctoral and certificate programs.


“A prominent theme of our new award is health disparities in our region and how to address them,” said IIMS Director Robert A. Clark, M.D., assistant vice president for clinical research and professor in the School of Medicine at the Health Science Center. “We are also investing in two new multi-institutional entities, the Center for Innovation in Drug Discovery and the Core for Advanced Translational Technologies, both of which hold promise for moving potential therapeutics discovered at the lab bench to clinical trials and then to use in the public.”


Francisco González-Scarano, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine and vice president for medical affairs, said: “The CTSA’s focus on educational and career development is helping to build San Antonio as a bioscience city by training researchers who will work not in silos but across disciplines to translate science.” The majority of CTSA funding supports activities within the School of Medicine.


IIMS is fostering community engagement in collaboration with multiple partners, including the region’s physicians through the practice-based research networks. In this interaction, physicians in offices and clinics leverage academic resources to solve research questions. These studies are based on observations from ambulatory, rather than hospitalized, patients. The CTSA supports eight of these networks. This is one example of the community engagement initiatives.


“Another important area of our CTSA is the pilot project program, which has grown significantly since 2008 through partnerships developed between IIMS and the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at the UT Health Science Center, The University of Texas at San Antonio, the San Antonio Vaccine Center, the Center for Biological Neuroscience at the Health Science Center, and others,” said David S. Weiss, Ph.D., vice president for research at the Health Science Center. “We have been able to leverage our pilot project resources with these entities to be competitive for outside grant support, with a remarkable return on investment of 15 to 1.”


IIMS offers a range of support services to investigators in bioinformatics, biostatistics, study design and more, and has expanded the venues available for conducting human clinical research studies from one when the first CTSA was received to six today. This includes a pediatric unit in San Antonio and the Valley’s first unit at the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen.


The Health Science Center’s application competed against 28 others for the coveted award and ranked in the top 10 applications received, Dr. Clark said. He thanked the many faculty and staff who worked on the grant submission including the three IIMS co-principal investigators: Kenneth M. Hargreaves, D.D.S., Ph.D., professor and chairman of endodontics in the Dental School and professor in the departments of pharmacology, physiology and surgery in the School of Medicine; Michael J. Lichtenstein, M.D., M.Sc., professor and chief of geriatrics, gerontology and palliative care; and Paula K. Shireman, M.D., vice dean for research in the School of Medicine and professor of surgery.