UC Davis at forefront of national initiative to transform research to improve human health

$24.8-million award aims to speed development, delivery of discoveries to patients

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- The National Institutes of Health today named UC Davis as part of a national consortium that will transform how clinical and translational research is conducted, enabling researchers to provide new treatments more efficiently and quickly to patients.

The consortium is made up of 12 academic health centers located throughout the nation, each funded through an NIH Clinical and Translational Science Award. UC Davis will receive $24.8 million over the next five years to expand the innovative and collaborative components of its existing research enterprise and to establish the UC Davis Center for Clinical and Translational Research.

"Translational research is key to advancing our knowledge of disease and for improving patient care," said Ann Bonham, executive associate dean for research and education at UC Davis Health System. "It is based on collaborative and dynamic interactions among physicians and scientists who ensure that a free flow of information about the current 'science' of disease gained from studies at the laboratory bench is equally focused on improving health and meeting the needs of practicing physicians, patients and the community at large. By creating a dynamic environment to foster these collaborations, our new center will accelerate the translation of scientific discoveries into solutions for complex medical diseases."

The NIH established the national consortium because it recognized the need to change the way clinical research is done in the United States.

"The traditional academic model isolates people according to their area of study," said Lars Berglund, a physician-scientist and assistant dean for clinical research who will serve as director of the UC Davis Center for Clinical and Translational Research. "Scientists conduct research and publish their results in specialty journals, which other specialists in their field read, but with delays inherent in the publication pipeline and the sheer volume of biomedical literature, the sharing of knowledge among fields is a challenge. UC Davis is among the lead institutions working to eliminate these institutional and disciplinary silos so that breakthroughs in the lab can quickly become advances in medical care that reach the populations of patients who need them."

"This is a great opportunity for UC Davis to participate in a nationwide initiative to translate science into improved health for Americans," said Jill Joseph, professor of pediatrics and associate director of the program. "The kind of reorganization that the NIH awards promote is necessary because the health status of Americans still ranks low compared with other developing nations. Despite the tens of million of dollars that have gone into conducting important basic research, it hasn't translated into long-term improved health for many Americans."

The complexity of the diseases facing Americans today further underscores the need for institutional change across the country.

"We need interdisciplinary research if we are to develop treatments for diseases, like cancer and diabetes, that are affected by genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors," said Berglund, who has more than 20 years' experience conducting research at the laboratory bench and patient-focused studies in the areas of vascular disease, HIV and lipoprotein metabolism.

"The new UC Davis center is a place where experts in fields ranging from engineering to population genetics to pediatrics will find it easier to work together to discover better ways of treating and curing disease. These range from having access to streamlined, consolidated and amplified research services, such as grant writing, to having professional support in the use of novel tools and technologies to conduct research and disseminate results to populations in need," Berglund said.

The NIH award is the result of a variety of stepped-up efforts developed over the past four years at UC Davis to invest in programs and administrative structures that foster collaborative and translational research. These include a new strategic plan focused on research and integrating science across medical disciplines, additional positions within the dean's office to direct and support institutional change, and strengthened mentoring programs and the resources available for clinicians and scientists.

"To improve human health, we need to do things better, as well as do better things," said Claire Pomeroy, vice chancellor for human health sciences and medical school dean. "We need to continue discovering new products and methods that improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease and that encourage wellness and quality of life. We need to ensure that the discoveries made are effectively incorporated into clinical care that reaches all patients and all communities, especially poor and ethnic minority populations who too often do not benefit equally from advances in care. With our new center, we aim to create a recognized, highly visible, academic home for clinical and translational research that improves the health of the diverse communities and growing populations we serve in Central and Northern California and beyond."

NIH awarded the grant to UC Davis and highlighted the university's strengths in three key areas:

  • Its innovative telecommunications technology, which has evolved into one of the broadest and most extensive efforts in the world to reach geographically dispersed and ethnically diverse populations;
  • Its collaborative culture, which has fostered one of the most extensive and interdisciplinary life science environments in the country;
  • Its successful pilot facility -- the UC Davis Clinical Research Investigator Services Program (CRISP) -- where solutions to some of the barriers that prevent the translation of research gains into medical practice have been explored and tested.

"The new center has an organizational structure that is researcher-friendly and incorporates the best features of existing partnerships within and beyond the health system," Berglund said. "Focused on 'team science,' it also is responsive and familiar to investigators and offers a flexible use of resources for patient-oriented research."

The center also incorporates other UC Davis strengths, including extensive collaborations across UC Davis colleges, centers and academic departments, and strong relationships with institutional partners, such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Northern California Health Care System, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Shriner's Hospital for Children. It also features an expanded community engagement program emphasizing trust and respect and the use of tele-technology to reach diverse patient populations.

"UC Davis is in a unique position to usher in a new era of team science and integration," said Virginia Hinshaw, provost and executive vice chancellor at UC Davis. "With its extensive research and training programs in the Schools of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, and the Colleges of Biological Sciences, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and Engineering, we have the resources to focus on improving health outcomes."

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In addition to Berglund and Joseph, the UC Davis Center for Clinical and Translational Research is supported by a team of directors and co-directors, each of whom oversees nine programs and participates in a comprehensive committee structure to implement plans with institutional leadership, faculty, trainees and the community.

Editor's note: UC Davis Health System leaders and grant directors are available for interviews following NIH's teleconference announcing the Clinical and Translational Science Awards at 10 a.m. P.D.T. (1-888-202-2422 Confirmation code: 4830578) NIH will also post a recording of the briefing on its Web site at www.ncrr.nih.gov/clinicaldiscipline.asp.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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