Grant will help UCSD-led team speed lab discoveries to the clinic


New tools, such as integrated software for data collection and management and sophisticated technologies that measure patient responses to therapies in ways that are far more sensitive than standard clinical assessments, are at the heart of an emerging field of medicine known as translational research.

These advances, however, have added complexity in turning scientific discoveries into improved healthcare as academic researchers often must identify resources in order to create their own infrastructure to advance medical findings. What is needed is a common infrastructure that emphasizes “group science” through shared research and resources and institutional support.

UCSD Health Sciences and its Clinical and Translational Research Institute (CTRI) are poised to do just that thanks to a five-year $37.2 million Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), part of the National Institutes of Health.

“The institute will produce not just outstanding science, but also translate the discoveries into improved health care, enhanced well-being, and prevention,” said grant principal investigator Gary S. Firestein, M.D., professor of medicine, dean of translational medicine at UC San Diego’s School of Medicine and director of CTRI.

And, while it all sounds like high science, educational outreach to the public is a critical piece that includes a website, slated for launch in six months.

“The website will contain information from the various training programs and a calendar of events, such as public lectures,” said Dilip Jeste, M.D., professor of psychiatry and neurosciences in the UCSD School of Medicine and CTRI director of education.

The institute will draw on many resources, including four professional schools of health sciences: UCSD’s School of Medicine and the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and San Diego State’s Pharmaceutical Sciences and the School of Nursing and the School of Public Health.

“We have both a real and virtual institute,” said Gary S. Firestein, M.D., professor of medicine, dean of translational medicine at UC San Diego’s School of Medicine, and director of the CTRI.

“Space is assigned on campus for lab and clinical research to identify new therapies to treat a variety of human diseases,” he said.

The virtual part, he added, is a regional consortium involving UCSD Medical Center, UCSD Rady School of Management, Salk Institute, Sanford/Burnham Institute, J. Craig Venter Institute; La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology; Rady Children’s Hospital Research Center, VA Medical Center in La Jolla, and Palomar Pomerado Health System.

CTRI also draws upon three computing resources: San Diego Supercomputer Center, California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Cal IT2), and UCSD division of biomedical informatics.

“It’s one-stop shopping for investigators,” said Michael G. Ziegler, M.D., professor of medicine in the UCSD School of Medicine and director of the CTRI’s Concept to Completion Program. “Instead of investigators having to seek out services spread throughout the university, we make sure the services are in place and there’s someone to guide them through.”

As an example of how partnerships create new opportunities for patients looking for cutting-edge clinical trials, one can point to the harmonization institutional research boards at UCSD and Palomar Pomerado Health. This means that a clinical study approved at one facility can automatically be approved at the other.

Education is also a major element for the institute. There are local as well as distance learning programs. CTRI will be a coordinating center for Ph.D. degree programs in bioinformatics, clinical psychology, public health, audiology and hearing sciences, pharmaceutical sciences, biostatistics, and language and communicative disorders. Many of these are dual programs with SDSU.

The mission of CTRI is ambitious, yet also grounded in real-world needs and expectations, according to Dr. Firestein.

“The funds will allow us to expand and to jump start a program that will reach into health care for the next several decades.”