Every month, the CTSI Stories Blog will post excerpts from ongoing conversations with the institute’s co-directors.
To kick off the monthly series, Karl Kieburtz provides an overview of the CTSI’s key components.
How would you describe the CTSI in a nutshell?
The CTSI is really here to help research teams work faster and better. Very little research actually happens within the CTSI – it’s the research teams that exist in other portions of the university that we support. Our slogan is “Connect. Learn. Get help,” so part of what we do is connect people to others at the university, with the idea that more collaborators can get things done faster and better. You can also come to us to learn new skills. Our largest pillar of activity is our education program — our predoctoral students, our TL1 program, and so on. And then get help can be helping you find the right resources, or it can be financial support.
Funding programs is our second-largest pillar, in terms of the budget. First, small amounts of funding are available very quickly — sometimes in minutes — through the voucher program. These are vouchers that help you access people and services within the institution that would typically charge for it, such as CHET (Center for Human Experimental Therapeutics) or biostatistics. They’ll provide consultation for an hour, but if it’s an ongoing thing, there’s an established rate which you’d have to pay. So if you need access to some of those things and don’t have the money to pay for it, this is a way of getting it really quickly. Over the past three years, we’ve spent $240,000 — $80,000 a year — helping people get access to things they might not have had money to access.
Beyond the voucher program, we have our Pilot program, which offers grants between $25,000 and $50,000 per year, and then there’s our big Incubator program, which is $125,000 per year for two years, so a $250,000 award. In general, these are good investments because the amount we’ve given out, the researchers have turned around and acquired extramural funding 15- to 20-fold what we’ve given them.
15- to 20-fold? Can you expand on that?
Many granting mechanisms require you to have some kind of preliminary data, or preliminary feasibility that your groups can actually work together. So the incubator program, for example, takes successful laboratories that are working together for the first time. If you’re applying for a grant, you could say “We’re going to work with these people over here,” but a typical review would respond, “You never have before – how do you know it’s going to work out?” With the Incubator program, you’d have a reference point. You could say “We’ve worked together, we’ve produced these preliminary results, and this is where we’re going to go next.” And then you can go and get the R01 grant.
Tell me more about the other pillars.
The third-largest pillar is the CRC (Clinical Research Center). That’s a place to do research, and our budget covers the staffing and so forth. We do charge for it, but it doesn’t cover our costs — the revenue we get from users is only 10-15 percent of the cost of the actual operation.
Then, we have our research and collaboration services pillar, which is about getting people connected. We have an expert team providing advice to people, just pro bono, and networks (such as the Upstate New York Translational Research Network) to help people get support.
Our population health pillar focuses on managing the health care cost of a population but also answers the question: How is the population doing? So we’re helping to create general indices of health: How many people are overweight, how many people have finished high school, how many are vaccinated, how many have communicable illnesses. A lot of things drive health, and health care itself is only about 10 percent. Genetics is 30 percent, and behaviors are a huge part of it. Do you wear a seatbelt? Do you drink and drive? We’re interested in all these modifiers, not just health care.
The last pillar is clinical trials, which right now is a small investment that might get bigger over time. In this pillar, we focus on how to use technologies like mobile phones to get more real time data, more continuous data, and allow people to participate in research when they’d have difficulty coming to the actual academic medical center.
Anything else you wanted to mention this time around?
I wanted to get across the idea that our $6 million budget supports a lot of people — there are actually 114 individuals are supported by the grant. A small number of those are the CTSI staff and the folks in the CRC, but most are supported by the Pilot program, the Incubator programs, the educational programs, and so on. And of those 114 people, 70 get less than half of their support from the CTSI. I, for example, don’t get more than 50 percent — the rest of my salary is grants, and so on.
So in a sense, who is the CTSI? It’s no one and it’s everyone. It’s no one person, but there are lots of people who it supports. What the CTSI does is provide education, funding researchers to get their projects done, and providing a place for them to do it. Providing the education, providing the funding — these are kind of the traditional things that CTSIs have done. But I think ours is a little unusual in that so many people are involved.