Spirit of collaboration evident at 2024 CTSI Annual Forum

Annual Forum collage.

Pictured, clockwise from top left: Timothy F. Murphy, MD; Marc Halterman, MD, PhD; Ram Samudrala, PhD; Leonard H. Epstein, PhD, with Anne B. Curtis, MD; and Robert Fenstermaker, MD. Photos by Sandra Kicman.

Published April 17, 2024

“Having a CTSA grant [means] you become part of a national consortium of more than 60 institutions, and these are the leading medical schools and universities and academic health centers in the country."
Timothy Murphy.

A recurring theme during the University at Buffalo Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) Annual Forum on March 20 was the impact of and potential for collaboration to advance and accelerate research to reduce health disparities and improve community health. This theme was especially evident during the question and answer sessions following each presentation.

The diverse topics discussed at the forum, and presence of investigators from both UB and Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, confirmed Murphy’s pre-forum assessment that the yearly CTSI event is one highlighted by “extraordinary personal interactions and collaborative discussions.”

The day started with “Updates From NCATS,” presented by Jennie L. Conroy, PhD, Program Director, Division of Clinical Innovation, Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program Branch, National Center for Advancing Translational Science, NIH. Watch Conroy’s Annual Forum presentation here.

One of NCATS’ strategic goals, Conroy shared, is to “enable all people to contribute to and benefit from translational science. People are at the center of our translational research efforts. They are instrumental in identifying and addressing biomedical needs and opportunities.”

Conroy described how NCATS is developing a new strategic plan informed by public input.

“NCATS’ goals for the coming years are quite literally audacious — these goals are more treatments to all people more quickly,” Conroy said. “But what does that even mean? Right now, only 5% of diseases have a treatment, and one audacious goal is to get that number up so that 25% of known diseases have a treatment in the pipeline in the coming decade.”

Following Conroy with his annual “State of the CTSI” address was CTSI Director Timothy F. Murphy, MD, SUNY Distinguished Professor. Watch Murphy’s Annual Forum presentation here.

During his address, Murphy presented selected CTSI initiatives from 2015 to the present and explained how collaboration — with Buffalo Translational Consortium researchers, members of the community, and CTSA hubs — is driving the CTSI’s work and contributing to the CTSI’s success in advancing research discoveries that contribute to improved health and reduced health disparities.

Murphy highlighted the mission of academic medicine, which for years was represented by three core tenets — medical education, clinical care, and research — and now includes the important addition of community collaboration, to emphasize and recognize the value in engaging the community.

“Having a CTSA grant [means] you become part of a national consortium of more than 60 institutions, and these are the leading medical schools and universities and academic health centers in the country,” Murphy said. He described previous, current, and upcoming collaborations with multiple academic institutions across the CTSA consortium.

Murphy’s presentation also touched on the CTSI Translational Pilot Studies Program, and how it serves as a mentoring mechanism to train the next generation of clinical and translational science researchers.

Marc Halterman, MD, PhD, Senior Associate Dean and Executive Director, Office of Research, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, provided the Annual Forum keynote, titled “Lung-brain Coupling in Acute Ischemic Stroke: Mechanisms and Therapeutic Opportunities.”

Halterman began his address by reflecting on Conroy’s earlier comments, specifically the need to find innovative ways to move toward accomplishing important, life-saving objectives.

“I am thinking about the comments from [Dr. Conroy] about what is really bold and what we need to do,” he said.

During his presentation, Halterman discussed the evolving understanding of organ-organ communication in the pathophysiology of acute ischemic stroke, and the therapeutic opportunities presented by various drug treatments.

“This is a very complex and somewhat nuanced problem that I think will require collaboration across disciplines,” he stated.

The Top Award recipient for the 2023 Buffalo Translational Consortium Clinical Research Achievement Awards, Leonard H. Epstein, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Division Chief, Behavioral Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Jacobs School, explored partnership on a different front: bringing together families with multigenerational obesity and pediatricians to help all family members lose weight. Epstein’s study collaborators included CTSI Recruitment and Special Populations Core Director Teresa Quattrin, MD, UB Distinguished Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Associate Dean for Research Integration, Jacobs School.

Also presenting his work was 2023 Awards Finalist Robert Fenstermaker, MD, Professor of Neurosurgery and Oncology, Chair, Department of Neurosurgery, Director, Neuro-Oncology Program, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. Fenstermaker’s presentation centered on his work investigating the combination of SurVaxM, a peptide vaccine targeting survivin (a molecule highly expressed by glioblastoma cells), with adjuvant temozolomide (TMZ) in patients newly diagnosed with glioblastoma.

The Annual Forum’s final presentation was delivered by 2023 Awards Finalist Ram Samudrala, PhD, Professor and Chief, Division of Bioinformatics, Department of Biomedical Informatics, Jacobs School, the developer of the Computational Analysis of Novel Drug Opportunities (CANDO) platform for multiscale therapeutic drug discovery, repurposing, and design. He discussed his research team’s work exploring combinations of drugs to treat lung cancer patients with a specific gene/protein mutation.

Videos of the BTC Clinical Research Achievement Awards presentations will be shared on the CTSI YouTube page in the coming weeks.