The Institute for Clinical and Translational Science (ICTS) has a message for all members of the University of Iowa research community: join us.
The ICTS—home to the National Institutes of Health–funded Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) at The University of Iowa, and one of only 46 facilities of its kind in the nation—is providing UI researchers and scientists with a multidisciplinary research and training environment, all in the name of improving the health and well-being of Iowans and people worldwide.
“Translational science programs grew out of concerns in Congress that although there were many basic science discoveries, few moved forward to improve the care of people,” says Gary Hunninghake, director of the ICTS. “Translational really implies the movement of findings—from basic science to initial patient studies to large clinical trials, and then implementation in practice.”
Membership in the ICTS, which is free, gives UI researchers access to educational, training, and career development resources; eligibility for local and national CTSA pilot grant funding opportunities; and enrollment in a research profiling tool that encourages networking and facilitates collaborations. In return, the institute asks for commitment to its mission and collaboration with fellow ICTS members.
Hunninghake has been at the University since 1981. He was recruited to the University to build a division of pulmonary critical care medicine; when the ICTS was established, he stepped down as head of that division to assume the ICTS director position. He also directs the UI graduate program in translational biomedicine. He spoke with fyi about the core functions of ICTS, community programs that have been established and that are in the works, and the spirit of collaboration fostered by the institute.
fyi: How did the ICTS come about, and what are its core functions?
Gary Hunninghake: The Board of Regents approved the ICTS in December 2006. The NIH had decided to abandon its old ways of supporting clinical research and implemented a new program that they supported in part by Clinical and Translational Sciences Awards. Almost every place that has one of these grants set up a similar institute; they all have names very similar to ours. Ours is the UI home for clinical and translational research support and training.
The ICTS has three main core functions: to provide an infrastructure for clinical and translational research, to provide a mechanism for training and career development for those interested in clinical and translational research, and to develop community-based research programs where the community actually participates in a meaningful way. We don’t just go to the community and do research on them—they participate in the conception and design of the studies.
fyi: Elaborate on the community-based research aspect.
GH: We’ve established relationships with Community Health Centers, which are federally funded centers that provide care for underserved populations. Iowa has many throughout the state. We met the people who run the centers to find out what kind of research they were interested in—they identified diabetes care as a primary concern. We now have an ongoing research program that’s being conducted at these health centers related to diabetes care.
One thing we have in the works involves a relationship with Iowa State University, which has Extension programs throughout Iowa. Our plan is to set up a system where these Extension centers are used to facilitate community-based research and improvement in patient care.
fyi: How many of these centers exist in the United States?
GH: We were one of the first 20; there are now 46 that are funded. Ultimately there will be 60 and that’s it. It was a very competitive process to secure funding for this institute. These programs will be extremely important to the institutions, as they will be in a much better position to compete for research grants, especially from the NIH.
One of the things we’ve done is to set up a Midwest consortium of institutes. Within that consortium we’ve invited participation from states that might not receive funding for an institute, so that they have a seat at the table and can receive some of the benefits.
fyi: Does the ICTS membership involve a vast cross-section of campus?
GH: It’s open to anyone who wants to participate, and we’ve had participation from many UI colleges. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, one you might not automatically think about, is quite involved. People from the Departments of Psychology and Computer Science, people from the Nanoscience & Nanotechnology Institute. Engineering is very much involved because of imaging work. The ICTS offers an MS and PhD in translational biomedicine, which brings the Graduate College into the fold. The Carver College of Medicine and the Colleges of Nursing, Public Health, Pharmacy, Medicine, and Dentistry, they all do research, so they’re involved in a meaningful way.
fyi: This creates an atmosphere of—pardon the buzzword—synergy, yes?
GH: The ICTS gets people out of their own silos and develops new interactions that might not have occurred without the institute. We are crossing traditional disciplinary lines to bring about new ideas that I believe will change the way we research and practice medicine. Linking people who haven’t worked together is actually one of the most important things that we do. (laughs) Synergy isn’t a bad word.
fyi: How do people join the ICTS?
GH: It takes about 15 seconds to fill out our membership form online. It’s free—it will always be free—and will provide them access to the resources of the institute. It’s open to everybody.
fyi: Have you seen the traffic you’d hoped for?
It’s done well. We’d like more members, but we only recently opened it up for official membership. We’d like to get the vast majority of the University as members of the institute. One thing to reiterate: it’s not just for faculty. We set up a big training program for study coordinators, which has been very popular.
fyi: Any final words for the UI community?
Please let us know if there is any way we can help you—our mission is to serve.
by Christopher Clair