NIH awards UB $21.7 million to continue Buffalo’s rapid trajectory growing its health care and research sectors

Release Date: February 10, 2020

Portrait of UB President Satish K. Tripathi.
“The renewal of this highly competitive federal research award recognizes the caliber of scientific discoveries being made at the University at Buffalo and unequivocally affirms the positive impact we are making on the communities we serve. ”
Satish K. Tripathi, president
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. ­– The University at Buffalo has been awarded a five-year, $21.7 million Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health in recognition of the dramatic progress UB and its partners have made since 2015 when UB first received the CTSA. NIH announced the funding today.

The CTSA program is designed to develop innovative solutions that will improve the efficiency, quality and impact of the process for turning observations in the laboratory, clinic and community into interventions that improve the health of individuals and the public.

Renewal of the grant allows researchers and clinicians at UB and its partners in the Buffalo Translational Consortium to continue to innovate, speeding the development of new treatments for disease, reducing health disparities and allowing more Western New Yorkers to benefit from clinical research.

“The renewal of this highly competitive federal research award recognizes the caliber of scientific discoveries being made at the University at Buffalo and unequivocally affirms the positive impact we are making on the communities we serve,” UB President Satish K. Tripathi said.

“Building on the successes we achieved with the original award, the CTSA renewal grant enables our UB researchers to further their investigations into the most vexing health problems, advance critical medical breakthroughs from bench to bedside and — in fulfillment of our university mission — make a positive difference in the lives of people here in Western New York and across the state, the nation and our world,” Tripathi added.

UB’s Clinical and Translational Research Center (CTRC) of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences will continue to function as the hub of the Buffalo Translational Consortium, which is comprised of the five UB health sciences schools, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, clinical partners UBMD, Kaleida Health, Erie County Medical Center and Buffalo VA Medical Center, along with four specialized research institutes on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and five influential community partners.

Clinical trial research in Buffalo has tripled

The CTSA program was developed to help speed the development of new treatments from the lab bench to patients, in large part by getting more patients to participate in and benefit from clinical trials. As many as three-quarters of clinical trials in the U.S. never reach completion due to the inability to recruit enough eligible patients to participate.

One of the clearest signals that UB’s initial CTSA is impacting health care and medical research in Western New York is the jump in the number of clinical trials ongoing in the community, and the number of Western New Yorkers who are currently benefiting.

That was accomplished by a comprehensive strategy throughout the Buffalo Translational Consortium and spearheaded by UB to bring researchers, clinical partners and community members together to better understand how to improve participation in clinical trials.

“From 2015 through the end of 2018, the number of Western New Yorkers participating in clinical trials has gone up by 300%,” said Michael E. Cain, MD, vice president for health sciences at UB and dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “More than 3,500 Western New Yorkers are now participating in clinical trials at UB and many are those who have been impacted by health disparities.”

The number of underrepresented minorities participating in UB clinical trials has increased from 27% in trials before the first CTSA was awarded in 2015 to 37% since it was funded, a number that will continue to rise thanks to the new award.

“This funding will provide for an array of new resources that will further our targeted efforts to boost clinical trial recruitment of underserved populations in our city and especially in communities near the Jacobs School,” said Cain.

“Many more people in our community, especially those impacted by health disparities, are now gaining access to the newest and best diagnostic tests and treatments that are available anywhere,” he added. “Buffalo’s progress has clearly been recognized and rewarded by NIH.”

Current clinical trials at UB range from testing new treatments for diabetes, schizophrenia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and childhood asthma to dementia, preventing obesity in preschoolers and helping pregnant women to stop smoking, and much more.

UB’s success expanding clinical recruitment among patients who experience health disparities is important for the wellbeing of the entire community because Buffalo is a microcosm of what the nation will look like by 2050, explained Timothy F. Murphy, MD, principal investigator on the award, SUNY Distinguished Professor and senior associate dean for clinical and translational research at the Jacobs School. Forty faculty will work on the various components of the grant.

“Underrepresented minorities make up half of the population of Buffalo,” Murphy said. “That’s what the demographics of the U.S. are expected to be in the next 30 years.  Unfortunately, fewer than 10 percent of those who enroll in clinical trials nationally are underrepresented minorities.

“Clearly, what we are doing in Buffalo, by increasing engagement with members of the community who traditionally have not participated in clinical trials, is a remarkable step forward, both for our community and ultimately for the nation’s health care,” Murphy said.

Since 2015, UB’s CTSI has conducted a Translational Pilot Studies Program, supported by the CTSA grant and by UB and its partners, that provides seed funds to research teams. This seed funding has led to $7 million in additional national funding for Buffalo Translational Consortium researchers. Several of these pilot studies focus on engaging people who experience health disparities in clinical research.

Closer engagement with the community

The CTSA grant includes an associated mentoring grant, led by Margarita Dubocovich, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor and senior associate dean for inclusion and diversity in the Jacobs School.

The overall goal of UB’s Mentored Career Development Program is to train the next generation of clinical and translational scientists, helping them navigate a critical stage of their career toward becoming independent investigators.

This program recruited and trained 10 junior faculty in translational science since 2015, drawing trainees from a broad range of disciplines, including nursing, pharmacy, medicine, cancer science and others. The new CTSA grant provides continued support for this highly successful program to train faculty from UB and partners to become future leaders in the field.

The new CTSA grant will allow for closer engagement with the community, including:

  • Engaging with Buffalo area residents as part of the new UB Community Health Equity Research Institute, a center that combines the expertise of researchers and students from across the university to work with community partners to address health disparities on the city’s East Side.

  • Developing Community Engagement Studios where clinical researchers studying a particular disease meet with patients with that disease in order to find out how to better design their studies. The new CTSA grant will enable significant expansion of this program.

  • Studying and developing eConsents, which helps recruit individuals to studies through electronic means, such as telemedicine, giving patients the ability to discuss study participation in a less intimidating environment than a typical doctor’s office, clinic or hospital.

  • Continuing development in Western New York of the electronic health record (EHR), a powerful clinical tool that allows researchers to identify who in the region is eligible for a particular clinical trial. “EHR data takes the guess work out of determining feasibility and increases the success rate of clinical trials,” said Murphy.

  • Applying Natural Language Processing, an area in which UB is a leader, to better understand electronic health records. Approximately 70% of the information in medical records is in written notes. Natural language processing is an innovative approach that extracts information from notes, increasing the value of EHRs as a research tool substantially.

UB’s efforts to improve regional health care by increasing access to groundbreaking clinical trials are aligned with the strategic goals of the university focused on: providing students with transformative, innovative and research-grounded educational experiences; promoting a university-wide culture of equity and inclusion; deepening the university’s engagement with the community; and achieving greater societal impact locally and globally. Attainment of these goals will advance UB’s ambition to become a Top 25 public research university.

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