Director’s Update – August 2015

Every month, the CTSI Stories Blog will post excerpts from ongoing conversations with the institute’s co-directors. This month, Nana Bennett discusses the recently-released Program Announcement from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) for its Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) program. The CTSI is pursuing its second five-year renewal.NanaBennett

By now, anyone who works in or around the CTSI probably knows that the NCATS has released the criteria for the new CTSA awards. What can you tell us about them?

Yes, the new RFA is out! And I’m happy to discuss it, but first, a brief bit of background for people who aren’t familiar with the history. URMC was one of the first dozen institutions to receive a CTSA award when the program launched in 2006. These are five year grants that support much of the CTSI. We’ve been renewed once – this is the second time we’re applying for renewal. In terms of total dollars, it’s one of the largest grants at URMC.

The good news is that we thought that the RFA would be similar to the one was that was released last year, and for the most part, it is. The format is a bit different — it’s actually a bit better, a bit more straightforward, than before.  We began preparing based on last year’s so we’re in relatively good shape.

It’s interesting though – taking the longer view, several things have changed and several things are similar to the CTSI as it was years ago. There used to be “key functions,” and then those were eliminated, and now we’re back to what they call “cores,” which are very similar to key functions. But there are also several key themes which are more specific than in the past.

Can you talk about those themes?

Population health is a major one for us. NCATS has been tasked with improving and speeding the impact of research on improving health as a whole, and that’s why our overarching theme here at the CTSI is “from molecules to populations.” We want to help advance basic research – research at the molecular level – and help facilitate its growth and translational potential so that it can be used to improve human health across a population.

In order to span that full spectrum, team science is vital – and that’s another key theme.  Science has reached the point where it’s very difficult for a single investigator to take a discovery all the way from the bench to the bedside to community. In addition, input from community stakeholders is critical to science being responsive to the greatest health challenges facing our nation. Quality and efficiency of research is an important theme – we must show how the URMC can contribute to the national network of CTSAs in ways that speed and improve the conduct of research.

And another key theme is innovative education. Our CTSI educational programs are innovative in content and process. We recently launched a doctorate program called, “Infection and Immunity: From Molecules to Populations” which is specifically designed to train scholars in interdisciplinary research – combining the basic sciences and the population health sciences.  While this is not part of the CTSI, it dovetails with it and is illustrative of our approach.

How many people are working on the renewal grant? What else are we doing to prepare?

The three CTSI co-directors – Karl Kieburtz, Martin Zand, and I – are leading the renewal efforts, but we have more than 50 people involved in the process. We’ve engaged people across the university to ask for feedback and/or contributions to the grant-writing process, and we’ve also asked a group of internal and external experts to review the application before it goes out.

Our deadline is mid-September, so things may be a little frantic for the next 5 or 6 weeks. But we are confident that when we’ve finished the process, we’ll have made a strong case to NCATS for renewal.

Previous Director’s Updates:
July 2015 – Karl Kieburtz seeks feedback in the wake of the CTSI Town Hall meeting.
June 2015 – Martin Zand gives an overview of what will likely be different about the next CTSA renewal application.
May 2015 – Nana Bennett discusses the enhanced role of the Strategic Leadership Group.
April 2015 – Karl Kieburtz talks about how the leadership is preparing for the Clinical and Translational Science Award renewals.
March 2015 – Martin Zand introduces himself and discusses his interest in informatics and population-based research.
February 2015 – Nana Bennett discusses the CTSI’s Seminar Series on population health.
January 2015 – Harriet Kitzman reflects on her time as a CTSI co-director.

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