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UB Today

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Fall 2012





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Image for CTRC Clinical and Translational Research Center occupies top four floors of new downtown facility, which it shares with Kaleida Health’s Gates Vascular Institute.

Under One Roof

Researchers and clinicians at new center translate scientific discoveries into actual patient treatments

Story by Blair Boone

A long-running study of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) put SUNY Distinguished Professor and lead researcher Timothy F. Murphy in monthly contact with each patient in the study. Researchers often have little interaction with study volunteers, yet in this instance the primary investigator’s direct involvement with patients led to a critical insight. Murphy and his collaborators identified a bacterium that previously was not believed to affect the overall health of patients with COPD as a key risk factor for some patients.

“In this case,” says Murphy, “direct observation of the patients led us to re-frame an essential question in our research, which in turn led to a breakthrough.”

That’s exactly the kind of impact Murphy expects the new Clinical and Translational Research Center (CTRC), which opens on Sept. 20, to have for University at Buffalo researchers and their clinical collaborators. At the CTRC, clinical research and laboratory research on human disease are occurring in adjacent spaces. The new center will “transform clinical research in Buffalo as we know it,” says Murphy.

Indeed, the center is home to a groundbreaking collaboration between UB and Kaleida Health designed to advance both basic biomedical research and patient treatment. Murphy is the director of the new center and senior associate dean for clinical and translational research in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. From his office in the CTRC, he is coordinating the effort to translate biomedical discoveries into new therapies.

In fact, the CTRC addresses a need recognized nationwide, which is that many of the great biomedical research discoveries of the last three decades have not yet been translated into treatments. From 1980 to 2012, the rate of Food and Drug Administration approvals for the latest in patient treatments has remained flat. Yet during that time, basic biomedical research has made tremendous progress in everything from genomics to imaging.

“If you look at basic biomedical research over the last 30 years, the advances have been nothing short of remarkable— genomics, cell biology, structural biology, immunology,” says Murphy. “But if you look at how effectively we’ve translated those great advances into new treatments— new drugs, vaccines, preventions, diagnostics— it’s not spectacular.”

Story Image “Patients drive our research. Placing research adjacent to and even physically overlapping patient care puts us on the leading edge of clinical translational research.” Timothy F. Murphy

Part of the effort to translate research discoveries into treatments involves bringing researchers and clinicians into closer proximity, and in some cases daily contact. That’s why the CTRC shares the new $291 million building with Kaleida Health’s Gates Vascular Institute (GVI), a leader in research on and treatment of stroke and cardiovascular disease. Everything about the building is designed to foster cooperation and collaboration among clinicians and researchers from a wide variety of medical and biomedical disciplines.

“Patients drive our research,” says Murphy. “Placing research adjacent to and even physically overlapping patient care puts us on the leading edge of clinical and translational research.”

The CTRC occupies the top four floors of the building, with a total of 170,000 square feet of dedicated laboratory space, offices, seminar and conference rooms; advanced imaging facilities; a bio-repository that will collect, store and catalog valuable tissue samples from a wide variety of diseases; a clinical research center with nine exam rooms; and more.

Among the center’s notable occupants are the UB Biosciences Incubator, which helps UB researchers create viable businesses based on the products of biomedical research; the Jacobs Institute, which conducts research and development and training in vascular medicine with a focus on entrepreneurship in developing applications for research innovations; and UB 2020 Health and Wellness Across the Life Span, which draws on the strengths of the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions to develop a holistic approach to health and longevity.

Story Image Exterior and interior are melded together in a design that emphasizes fluid interaction among collaborative teams.

The university invested the $118 million it received from New York State for its share of the construction, plus additional funds for equipment. The shared costs created another major benefit of the collaboration between UB and Kaleida, as building a single, shared facility dramatically reduced the overall investment that would have been required to build separate, fully equipped medical facilities for research and treatment. UB, meanwhile, is seeking private gifts from individuals, corporations and foundations to support the facility, fund research and endow faculty positions.

Design features in the new building, such as open-plan laboratories, put researchers side-by-side, when traditionally they would be isolated in individual labs. The goal is to break down the “silos” that result when researchers in one discipline are isolated from researchers in another discipline. This atypical design encourages the exchange of ideas and collaboration between researchers in different areas of inquiry.

Similarly configured common areas also foster both structured and casual interactions that can lead to more productive exchanges and collaboration. The fifth floor even includes areas designated as “collision corners” equipped with seating areas, white boards and other tools to facilitate impromptu discussions among faculty.

“Traditionally, scientists all worked in their own areas and talked only to other people in their area. They didn’t routinely talk to scientists in other disciplines,” Murphy says. “More important, we didn’t speak the same language. It’s almost a language problem—that’s been the key obstacle to translational research.”

The innovative design is proven to foster collaboration. Murphy himself is collaborating with a lab neighbor, Brian Tsuji, assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, on a study of antibiotic-resistant genes in bacteria that cause respiratory tract infections in adults with COPD and ear infections in children. Before they began working in adjacent labs, the two had never met.

Story Image The new building is designed as a “vertical campus,” thus fostering new synergies among disciplines.

The institutional collaboration reaches widely, with the new building serving as the hub for all the organizations that comprise the Buffalo Translational Consortium, a group that includes the medical research and patient care organizations Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Great Lakes Health Systems of Western New York, UBMD, Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, Research Institute on Addictions, and UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences.

Community partners, meanwhile, include the P2 Collaborative of Western New York, dedicated to improving the health of Western New Yorkers; the physician group known as Upstate New York Practice Based Research Network; the New York State Area Health Education Center; and HEALTHeLINK, a regional health information organization.

A strong indicator of the consortium’s potential came even before the CTRC building was finished, when the consortium narrowly missed receiving a Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A total of 60 of these large grants have been awarded nationwide, part of an ongoing NIH initiative to prioritize clinical and translational research.

The $20 million award would fund many research expenses, including salaries for more high-profile researchers. According to Murphy, even more important than the funding is that on receiving the award “we would become part of a national consortium of the leading 60 institutions in the country that have similar efforts.”

While it’s very unusual for a consortium to receive a CTSA with its first application— only five grants were made in the last round—the Buffalo consortium’s proposal performed exceptionally well. More significantly, the proposal was highly praised by reviewers, providing a blueprint for implementing programs to strengthen the center’s future opportunities. “The leaders of the health sciences and the hospitals have been strongly committed to this effort,” says Murphy. “There is definitely a common goal in Buffalo to excel in this area.” In fact, the Buffalo consortium will shortly submit a revised application for a CTSA, the NIH having recently released the next version of its request for applications.

The consortium brings a number of strengths to translational efforts, especially in ongoing research. In addition to Murphy’s work on vaccine development to prevent otitis media in children, which was just awarded a five-year NIH grant, other notable efforts include research on skin diseases by Animesh A. Sinha, chair of the department of dermatology and holder of the Rita M. and Ralph T. Behling, MD Chair in Dermatology; research into Alzheimer’s and other dementing diseases by Kinga Szigeti, director of UB’s Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Center; and studies of cardiac disease conducted by the Center for Research in Cardiovascular Medicine, headed by John M. Canty Jr., who holds the Albert and Elizabeth Rekate Chair in Cardiovascular Disease.

“The CTRC is the most exciting development I’ve seen in my career at the University at Buffalo,” says Canty. “Until now, our translational research efforts were conducted at multiple locations. Patient-oriented research was largely dissociated from the preclinical environment. The new building’s unique vertical integration enables physician-scientists to move easily from the patients’ bedsides to the preclinical lab and back in a single facility. We can provide care to patients on the lower floors, enroll selected patients in clinical trials, and then follow them as outpatients in the sixth-floor clinical research center and the seventh-floor imaging suite for cardiac PET/CT and MRI scans.”

According to Canty, this integration in a single location will also aid teaching and recruitment of both students and faculty researchers to the University at Buffalo, and it may encourage more students to consider careers as physician-scientists, too.

The push for translational research is already reshaping the curriculum at UB. A new interdisciplinary clinical research track in the master’s of science program in epidemiology is based in the School of Public Health and Health Professions. The program includes courses from all five university health sciences schools and Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and was designed by faculty from each of the participating departments and institutions. The program received certification in 2010.

Another of UB’s strengths is in the emerging discipline of medical ontology. Traditionally a subject for philosophers, ontology is the study of the things that exist and the relationships among them. For medicine, the discipline involves identifying and classifying medical terms to solve the “language problem” encountered by researchers and clinicians from different disciplines. In practical terms, the aim is to provide tools to examine medical databases to identify and extract different types of data about pathogens, patients and disease so those data can be analyzed effectively to discover information currently hidden by the lack of a common vocabulary.

The ontology effort is led by Barry Smith, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Julian Park Professor of Philosophy, and Werner Ceusters, professor of psychiatry and director of the Ontology Group of UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences. Smith, whose work has received more than $7 million in funding since 2001, is internationally recognized as a pioneer in contemporary ontology. Ceusters is principal investigator on an NIH study that draws on ontology to help patients who are suffering from chronic pain to express how they feel, and their physicians to better understand and treat them.

“It is going to revolutionize how we do clinical research,” says Murphy of the insights of biomedical ontology. “If we could take all the studies that have been done on a particular treatment and look at outcomes, the value would be incredible. But we all have different databases with different terminology. Ontology determines the common terms and enables us to take advantage of the tremendous potential of this untapped information. And ontology is one of the disciplines where UB is an international leader.”

The center also is an important component of UB 2020, the overarching plan to elevate UB to the ranks of the nation’s elite research universities while generating broad and deep local and regional benefits for Buffalo and Western New York.

“The CTRC brings together for the first time at UB the critical components needed for interdisciplinary, disease-focused research that will more rapidly translate basic biomedical research into improved public health,” says Michael E. Cain, dean of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and vice president for health sciences. “There is no other place in the world I’m aware of where—under one roof—physicians and scientists are given the tools they need to conduct basic and translational-clinical research and to commercialize their discoveries. I’m confident this facility will contribute enormously to reshaping UB’s health sciences culture in the future.”

Blair Boone, PhD ’84, is a Buffalo-based freelance writer.

New building openings

In just over a year, UB has opened five major facilities—all LEED-designed buildings.

Story 1

August 19, 2011

William R. Greiner Residence Hall, North Campus

State-of-the-art residence hall housing mostly sophomores, Greiner Hall is packed with environmentally conscious features like an irrigation system that draws water from an on-campus lake, and laundry room counters made from recycled Tide detergent bottles.

Story 2

April 23, 2012

UB Solar Strand, North Campus

The 3,200-panel Solar Strand is a work of public art and represents a unique partnership between the New York Power Authority and UB. At 140 feet wide and 1,250 feet long, the array has a rated capacity to produce 750,000 watts of energy—enough to reduce UB’s emission of harmful greenhouse gases by nearly 400 tons annually.

Story 3

May 10, 2012

Barbara and Jack Davis Hall, North Campus

The state-of-the art facility for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is fully equipped with technology and instrumentation needed to best train tomorrow’s engineers. The building features updated classrooms and laboratories that support instruction and research in nanotechnology, pattern recognition and bio-based security systems.

Story 4

September 28, 2012

John and Editha Kapoor Hall, South Campus

Kapoor Hall is designed specifically for the needs and anticipated growth of UB Pharmacy, which is ranked in the top 25 pharmacy schools in the nation, according to U.S. News and World Report. Included are a pharmaceutical care learning center, patient assessment suite, a model pharmacy, lecture halls, classrooms and spaces for specialized research.