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Last modified: Thursday, May 29, 2008

IU-Purdue research initiative will benefit Hoosiers statewide

May 29, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS -- A federal award to fund the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CTSI) validates Indiana's position as a biomedical research leader, and citizens across Indiana and beyond will benefit, say Hoosier life sciences leaders.

The National Institutes of Health has awarded a five-year grant of $25 million to the IU School of Medicine to fund Indiana CTSI activities at Indiana and Purdue universities. The NIH created the clinical and translational awards program as a high priority effort to improve the process by which the laboratory discoveries of basic science are transformed into new medical treatments and products -- a process called translational research.

Officials at the NIH said the Indiana CTSI is one of the most broadly collaborative of the more than two dozen such programs it has funded to date, with community partners including Clarian Health, Eli Lilly and Co., BioCrossroads, Cook Group, Roche Diagnostics Corp., WellPoint Inc., the Indiana Economic Development Corp., the Indiana Department of Health and the Marion County Health Department.

Michael McRobbie

Michael McRobbie

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"The institute harnesses all of Indiana's major life sciences research centers into a commonly focused enterprise that will give Indiana's research scientists many new advantages in finding ways to do their work more effectively and efficiently," said IU President Michael A. McRobbie. "Over the long term, this will have an enormously positive impact on the state and will make laboratories at both IU and Purdue far more competitive for the major research awards of the future."

"This partnership creates the only national clinical and translational sciences institute that's a statewide research laboratory, and the National Institutes of Health acknowledged that," said France A. Córdova, president of Purdue. "This unique structure means Purdue and Indiana university researchers can address the human health needs of the entire state, especially those in our more rural communities."

Anantha Shekhar

Anantha Shekhar

One key to the success of the Indiana CTSI will be its ability to go beyond translating scientific discoveries to treatments and standard health care practices, said Anantha Shekhar, professor of psychiatry at IU School of Medicine and IU assistant vice president for life sciences, who has been named director of the Indiana CTSI.

"We will build systems that facilitate all levels of research and provide community feedback to researchers. This will enable the researchers to improve and refine the conduct of their science and improve care of their patients. We call it the 'translational circle,'" Shekhar said.

Connie Weaver, head of the Department of Foods and Nutrition at Purdue, has been named deputy director of the CTSI at Purdue. Bennett Bertenthal, dean of the IU College of Arts and Sciences, has been named deputy director for the IU Bloomington campus.

D. Craig Brater

D. Craig Brater

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D. Craig Brater, vice president for life sciences of IU and dean of the IU School of Medicine, noted that the institute represents the future of biomedical research.

"The health issues facing us are enormous, the science is complex, and resources must be used carefully. Just as the emphasis on translational science is of vital importance, so are broad-based partnerships and collaborations keys to our success in Indiana. Both are epitomized by the CTSI," Brater said.

The heart of the CTSI process will be project development teams, composed of researchers with a broad range of relevant backgrounds. The teams will meet regularly to hear proposals from scientists, assigning project managers to help move discoveries through the additional research and testing steps necessary to produce new medicines and treatment practices.

Because children are under-represented in clinical research, and recognizing IU's expertise in both pediatric basic science research and treating young patients through such institutions as the Wells Center for Pediatric Research and Riley Hospital for Children, a separate team will focus on children's health research. The Pediatric Research Acceleration Team will be headed by Scott Denne, professor of pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine.

"We believe that focusing attention on children's health is one of the ways the Indiana CTSI stands out among the clinical initiatives, and will bring dramatic benefits to children everywhere," said Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, executive associate dean for research affairs at IU School of Medicine and president and CEO of Riley Hospital.

Another such team, the Translating Research into Practice Team, will focus on ways to help practicing physicians implement research findings in their work. For example, research has shown that collaborative efforts can help cancer patients in the community get better treatment for pain and depression. Researchers at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center and the Regenstrief Institute, both CTSI partners, are jointly implementing such a program with cancer physicians in Indianapolis incorporating telemedicine and partnerships with pain treatment specialists.

Indiana CTSI's mission to train a new generation of researchers that are well versed in new technologies such as molecular medicine, community-based clinical trials, implementation studies of effective treatments, and economics of health practices is another key aspect. Kurt Kroenke, professor of medicine at IU, heads the training programs within the Indiana CTSI. Eli Lilly has made a substantial commitment to support training activities within the CTSI.

One aspect of the Purdue program will connect the new institute with Purdue's statewide extension educators.

"Carol Boushey, associate professor of foods and nutrition, will serve as a liaison between CTSI and our county educators," Weaver said. "Carol's work will be especially important in ensuring that we address the health issues of Indiana. This is where access meets impact."

Boushey will communicate with county extension leaders to identify the major community health issues in their areas and report her findings to the institute. Those findings will help researchers conduct community-based interventions and study the effects on the population. Similarly, when public health discoveries are made, Boushey will take the information back to counties that will benefit from it by developing training modules for county extension educators based on the findings.

In addition to its work in Indiana's 92 counties, Purdue will handle the nutrition and diet planning for clinical studies under the new partnership. Purdue's School of Veterinary Medicine will spearhead the pre-clinical animal modeling studies for issues relating to human diseases.

Purdue's Discovery Park will receive funding to create the third lab in the United States authorized to perform particular types of testing related to Vitamin D absorption and reaction in humans. The testing is necessary for studies of bone health.

The two universities bring a broad array of complementary resources to the initiative to develop faster and more effective methods for moving research discoveries from the laboratory to the patient bedside and to the marketplace. The Indiana CTSI will draw upon deep expertise at the IU School of Medicine in Indianapolis in operating clinical (patient) studies, advanced biomedical research technologies such as genomics and bioinformatics, methodologies for conducting and analyzing research, training physicians and scientists, and bioethics.

"At IU Bloomington, we have a rapidly growing capacity for life sciences research across a broad range of disciplines," Bertenthal said. "Our resources include new multi-disciplinary laboratories with state-of-the-art core facilities, such as imaging, supercomputing and magnetic resonance instrumentation that put us in the top tier of research universities. These facilities will play a major role in this new initiative."

The Indiana CTSI builds on investments in research and technology transfer made by Purdue and IU, particularly since 2000. For example, in 2001 Purdue launched Discovery Park, which involves more than 1,000 scientists drawn from every academic unit at Purdue and has led to the creation of 20 new companies. IU has significantly bolstered its research enterprise, attracting top-flight scientists with such support as the $105 million granted by the Lilly Endowment for the Indiana Genomics Initiative. The Indiana General Assembly, meanwhile, has provided financial support for necessary new research facilities and granted $20 million in 2007 for new research initiatives at IU and Purdue.

"The main focus of Purdue's Discovery Park is bringing people together to solve large-scale problems and then moving the solutions into the marketplace more quickly," said Alan Rebar, senior associate vice president for research at Purdue and executive director of Discovery Park. "This new center will allow us to accelerate those efforts into more areas of human health."

The CTSI's organization will include an external advisory committee composed of Indiana business and government leaders and representatives of other NIH-funded clinical and translational science institutes.

"The CTSI is a nationally significant example of an unprecedented partnership among IU, Purdue, BioCrossroads, corporate leaders and local health care organizations to uncover new life sciences opportunities that can more quickly be put to work to advance human health," said David Johnson, president and CEO of BioCrossroads. "Receiving this prestigious grant is just further evidence that we're at the forefront of health care discovery and delivery. Being able to bring research out of the laboratories and into our communities will benefit Hoosiers all over the state."

"The Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute is another demonstration of the collaboration and commitment among Indiana health care leaders to bring cutting-edge treatments from the bench to the bedside," said Daniel F. Evans, Jr., president and CEO of Clarian Health.

Because CTSI's activities will reach out to scientists, health care providers, businesses and communities statewide, CTSI officials will create an Internet-based home for the initiative, the CTSI HUB.

The CTSI HUB will give Hoosier investigators access to a rich database of the scientific resources available in Indiana -- researchers and their work, research programs and institutes, and experts that can help them move their work forward. The HUB will help CTSI researchers more easily communicate, collaborate, and track their progress. It will link the Indiana CTSI to other clinical translational science organizations around the country. It also will enable CTSI to better communicate with, and educate, health care providers and consumers throughout Indiana.

"This represents the essence of the Indiana CTSI -- a powerful statewide resource for a healthier Indiana," said Shekhar.