by Dwain Hebda
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) announced July 3 that the hospital is the recipient of a $24.2 million Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA), presented through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The award benefits UAMS Translational Research Institute (TRI), which conducts scientific research and translates findings into new medical treatments.
UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson introduced the award, which will be used to target the state’s biggest health issues, at a press conference at the hospital in Little Rock.
“What we announce today is a testament to the excellence of UAMS research,” Patterson says. “[This award] will have an effect on the health of 3 million Arkansans across our amazing state.”
“Part of TRI’s focus is on health disparities in rural areas of Arkansas. A major emphasis of this award is our research partnerships with the communities across the state.”
There are only 50 CTSA programs nationwide which underscores how competitive the process is for landing one. Dr. Laura James, principal investigator, TRI director and associate vice chancellor for clinical and translational research, said the department’s ongoing programs and initiatives, as well as its commitment to rural health, were instrumental in UAMS being named one of them.
“We are also focusing on the health challenges of rural populations, in particular, how can we develop better strategies to better detect disease or better treat disease for those who do not live in close proximity to a hospital,” James says.
The money, to be awarded over five years, will be used to fund both new and existing TRI work, including providing the public with easier access to cutting edge clinical trials; increasing the number of those trials conducted by UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital and Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System; providing education and translational science training for early career researchers and streamlining translational research processes via advanced informatics technology.
In addition, the money will fund UAMS faculty members’ research and TRI mentorship to lead said faculty toward other sources of funding via additional grants. A percentage of the research TRI will fund is earmarked for focusing on health issues affecting special populations such as children, as well as those impacting rural communities.
One particularly novel initiative to be funded is a partnership with the University of Arkansas Walton School of Business in Fayetteville that will help spur entrepreneurship within the medical field.
“We will teach graduate students about research commercialization so that we can develop new research ideas in biomedical innovation and products,” James says.
In preparation for the award, UAMS developed a number of new research approaches that will help expand research opportunities in the future. Some of these include development of a volunteer research participant registry than now includes nearly 6,000 potential volunteers and expansion of cross-institutional collaborations with multiple other CTSA programs across the U.S.
In addition, UAMS has founded the Community Science Academy to provide in-depth training for the public on clinical research and to foster decision-making opportunities within communities. TRI has also worked to expand its Community Advisory Board to help ensure a diversity of grassroots stakeholders are represented.
Patterson specifically highlighted the support of Sen. John Boozman in landing the grant, calling his participation “indispensable.” Boozman, who could not attend the July 3 presser, praised the hospital’s work via a prepared statement.
“This funding recognizes the outstanding research occurring right here in Arkansas,” Boozman says. “It will help UAMS researchers build on their successes and develop new therapies and medical procedures that will improve lives in Arkansas and beyond.”
“I was pleased to support the efforts of UAMS to secure this funding, but this award truly is a testament to the body of work produced by UAMS. Arkansans can be proud of all UAMS has accomplished and its bright future that lies ahead.”