Seed Funding Strengthens CTRC

Opening of the Clinical or Translational Research Center, Downtown Campus.

Published January 14, 2013

Two rounds of pilot funding overseen by the Buffalo Clinical and Translational Research Center (CTRC) are key efforts in UB’s goal of securing a Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health.

These $20 million, five-year awards are intended to spur translational and clinical research, and also allow recipient institutions to join an elite grouping of research centers. Having submitted an application for a CTSA award this month—buoyed by the recent opening of its own CTRC and pilot funding for translational research projects— UB hopes to become part of a national consortium of CTSA schools, able to collaborate with other institutions and leveraging more funding to expand UB’s clinical research capabilities.

The Translational Pilot Program (TPP) was launched in December of 2010, and overseen by the CTRC Steering Committee. The Directors of the program are Professors Steven Fliesler (Opthalmology) and Leonard Epstein (Pediatrics). The Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development manages the review process and recommends the proposals for funding to the CTRC Steering Committee. Funding for the program is contributed by members of the Buffalo Translation Consortium—specifically the Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the five UB Health Science Schools (Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; School of Public Health and Health Professions; School of Nursing; School of Dental Medicine; and School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences) and the OVPRED.

One funded pilot project is led by Dr. Chulhong Kim, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at UB. The project involves improving the therapy to treat chronic Graft-versus-Host Disease, the most common cause of non-relapse mortality after allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplant. Dr. Kim and his team will develop a non-invasive technique to clinically assess skin lesions in transplant patients. Another project, led by Dr. Javier G. Blanco, Clinical Biochemist. at UB’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, addresses the use of certain anthracyclines for breast cancer chemotherapy, which is hampered by the development of cardiotoxicity in some patients.

Ken Tramposch, Associate Vice President for Research and Director of Research Initiatives, says that the pilot funding demonstrates UB’s commitment to the mission of its new Clinical and Translational Research Center—a commitment that ought to be recognized by reviewers of our CTSA proposal. “Pilot project funding is a key function that is required of CTSA awardees; to be a clinical translation center, you have to have a pilot project program,” he says. “So you have to provide seed funding for new ideas, to bring projects from bench, towards bedside, so by having these two rounds of pilot funding, prior to getting the award, shows that we can effectively conduct this type of funding program… It’s just the old saying that you have to show reviewers that you can do things before they’ll actually fund you to do something.” Dr. Tramposch hopes to see UB’s future budget for pilot projects rise from $200 thousand to $600 thousand annually, augmented by the award.

While the Translational Pilot Program encourages BTC investigators to develop novel methods, to collaborate in interdisciplinary teams, and to test the feasibility of novel approaches to translational research, it also includes a novel educational component. Professors Epstein and Fliesler have developed an annual Workshop on Creativity and Innovation in the Biomedical Sciences to bring leading academic experts to Buffalo, with the aim of stimulating investigators to think more creatively and recognize the hallmarks of innovation (a key metric for all NIH grant funding programs). These Workshops will target a regional audience to foster regional connections and promote our linkage to regional CTSA institutions.

Other pilot projects receiving awards from the TPP include: Novel Multiplex Autoantigen Arrays for Biomarker Discovery in Skin Autoimmunity Abstract,” led by Animesh A. Sinha, M.D., Ph.D.; “Adapting Photodynamic Therapy into a Novel Treatment for Bacterial Infections,” led by Anthony Campagnari, Ph.D.; “Overcoming Myeloid Cell-Mediated Immunosuppression to Enhance Vaccine Efficacy in Ovarian Cancer,” led by Brahm H. Segal, M.D.; and “‘One Size Fits All’ Vascular Graft – Tissue Engineered Vasculature,” led by Daniel D. Swartz, PhD.