A $23 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will energize the University of Chicago’s efforts to harness innovative medical research for interventions that lead to better health for patients in Chicago and across the nation.
The grant brings total NIH funding to the University’s Institute for Translational Medicine to more than $50 million. Formed in 2007, the ITM serves as the administrative center for translational research at UChicago. Translational research involves speeding the progress of laboratory research into health care practice and improved community health. The Institute for Translational Medicine connects researchers and community organizations with funding, education and physical resources to prevent and treat disease in real-world settings.
“The work of the ITM is part of the University of Chicago’s larger commitment to science, medicine and engineering on campus, and the impact that innovation in these areas can have on the quality of life across the city and beyond,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “By supporting laboratory discoveries that advance diagnosis and treatment, this grant will enable us to further improve health care and contribute to economic opportunity.”
The grant will allow the ITM to continue developing new approaches to health care combining the latest research with community outreach, from implementing new medical technology to helping neighborhoods deal with violence.
"Over its first five years, the groundbreaking work of the ITM has demonstrated the power of a collaborative approach in bringing the latest scientific advances into the clinical setting,” said Kenneth Polonsky, dean of the Biological Sciences Division and the Pritzker School of Medicine and executive vice president of medical affairs at the University of Chicago Medicine. “This renewal of funding will allow the Institute to continue its important mission realizing the promise of smarter, more effective health care.”
Projects aim to personalize medical care
The renewed NIH funding came to UChicago via the agency’s transformative Clinical and Translational Science Award program, said Lainie Ross, co-director of the ITM. “It demanded institutions to develop research infrastructure across the translational spectrum. The ITM has supported diverse pilot projects, all of which share in the main CTSA goal: to improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities.”
These projects included the development of an automated 3-D imaging tool for measuring upper-airway inflammation in cases of sinusitis, a condition that substantially affects health care costs and quality of life. Samuel Armato III, associate professor of radiology, developed the new tool, which thus far has proven accurate in comparison to manual measurements performed by experienced ear, nose and throat specialists.
Another pilot project enabled Dana Suskind, professor of surgery and pediatrics, to study the language gap among children of lower socioeconomic status. By age 3, children in this group will have heard approximately 30 million fewer words than their more affluent counterparts, a disparity that results in lifelong disadvantage in multiple arenas. Suskind created the Thirty Million Words Project — a 12-week program that helps parents improve their children’s language environment.
A third project enabled Juliane Bubeck Wardenburg to breed special mice that lacked the ADAM10 enzyme in lung and skin cells. This allowed her to test the theory that the enzyme served as a sort of target for a toxin released by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, which damages cells and often results in pneumonia or severe skin infection. Bubeck Wardenburg now hopes to develop a drug treatment for those with early stages of staph infection or at-risk individuals, such as ICU patients.
“We have exciting plans for the next few years,” said ITM Director Julian Solway. “We will place additional emphasis on the earlier stages of translational research, paying particular attention to opportunities to discover new disease targets and to develop new and better drugs or other therapies, diagnostics and medical devices.
“We aim to personalize medical care by taking into account not only one’s biological or genetic and clinical characteristics, but also by understanding and accounting for all the social, environmental and non-biological determinants of health that are so critical in our lives,” Solway said.
Supporting training programs
In addition to pilot study programs, the Institute for Translational Medicine supports career awards for junior investigators and funding opportunities for investigators at all stages of their careers. UChicago researchers also have at their disposal the Institute’s Clinical Resource Center, which offers a wide range of resources for clinical and translational scientists including bionutrition services, sleep study capabilities, and a full range of phlebotomy and testing services through the Core Laboratory.
Training of students and faculty in clinical and translational science is a major focus, with courses developed through the Institute’s academic arm, the Committee on Clinical and Translational Science. A Master’s of Science in Health Sciences for clinical professionals along with other innovative training programs have increased the diversity of biomedical research and care delivery work force.
The grant renewal also guarantees the University’s membership in the National CTSA Consortium — a group of 60 organizations, academic institutions, NIH and other government agencies — for another five years. In addition to membership in the consortium, the Institute for Translational Medicine has developed affiliations with several Chicago-area institutions, including Argonne National Laboratory, NorthShore University HealthSystem, the Illinois Institute of Technology, Access Community Health Network and Rush University.
The ITM also works with a variety of centers and organizations at the University of Chicago, including the Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Digestive Diseases Research Core Center and the Kovler Diabetes Center. Engagement with the community has been made possible through collaboration with the University’s Center for Community Health and Vitality, a partnership which builds trust and respect through an innovative monthly Community Grand Rounds series.
For more information about the Institute for Translational Medicine, including funding and education opportunities, researcher resources and stories about ITM-sponsored pilot studies, visit http://itm.uchicago.edu.