The federally funded Advance Clinical and Translational Research program — of which the University of Rhode Island is a key partner — recently received a $19.9 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to fund the program’s expansion into a second five-year phase.
Advance-CTR is a statewide partnership that consists of URI, Brown University, Care New England, Lifespan, the Veterans Affairs Providence Healthcare System and the Rhode Island Quality Institute. Since 2016, the program has supported biomedical and public health scholars across Rhode Island who are working to turn scientific discoveries into solutions that can directly improve the lives of patients.
The program’s emphasis is to fund research that is translational — projects that move from the laboratory bench, to clinic, to practice, and then make a positive impact on patients and communities, according to URI pharmacy Professor Stephen Kogut, who directs the project;s Tracking and Evaluation core. It also provides educational and professional resources to early-career investigators across Rhode Island.
“Ultimately, the aim of this grant is to enhance the ability of our investigators and institutions to conduct research that improves the health and quality of life of Rhode Islanders through impacts on health care delivery and innovation,” Kogut said. “In the shorter term, the aim is to enhance the ability of researchers to secure funding and advance their research programs to accelerate the translation of research into practice.”
Researchers apply directly to the Advance-CTR program, whose local directors decide on project funding and disburse the funds directly. The partnership across the major research institutions in the state has resulted in a surge in translational research. During its first five years, Advance-CTR has become a model for scientific collaboration that crosses academic disciplines, builds on the strengths of multiple partners and ultimately makes a difference for patients and communities.
After its 2016 launch, Advance-CTR leaders surveyed clinical and translational researchers in Rhode Island and learned that pilot funding for new research projects, as well as training in key skill sets were the most in-demand resources. In response, the program was structured to include a pilot projects award program, a professional development core, and an array of trainings and workshops. Advance-CTR faculty and staff provide research consultations in biomedical informatics and cyberinfrastructure work, epidemiology, biostatistics, community engagement and more.
Advance-CTR has awarded funding to 85 investigators with funding for research that addresses community health priorities in Rhode Island and have the potential for direct benefits to patients. Ten URI professors from the Colleges of Pharmacy, Nursing and Health Sciences have received funding for research projects on kidney disease, cancer care, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and more.
URI investigators and their projects are:
- Nisanne Ghonem — “An in vivo study of Treprostinil in the prevention of ischemia-reperfusion injury to the kidney.”
- Ami Vyas — “Are we choosing wisely and improving value in cancer care?”
- Jessica Alber — “Using and Alzheimer’s Disease blood test to predict amyloid PET.”
- Jeffrey Bratberg and Ashley Buchanan — “New methods to evaluate the effects of opioids in provider-based networks.”
- Richard Clements — “Mitochondrial ROS-dependent modification of RYR/BKCA signaling axis in diabetes.”
- Marcella Thompson — “Community-engaged tribal research to assess dietary exposures to mercury and PCBs.”
- Lauren Connell Bohlen — “Improving the translation and dissemination of technology-delivered physical activity interventions through perspectives of users, stakeholders and researchers.”
- Kunal Mankodiya — “Brain/behavior mechanisms of emotion dysregulation in adolescent anxiety disorders.”
- Yuan Zhang — “Enhance antitumor immunity via modulating myeloid-derived suppressor cells.”
These funds have helped to seed and enhance research projects to the point of being competitive at the national level. Those 85 investigators went on to successfully win 58 additional awards — including 32 grant awards from the National Institutes of Health — as a result of the funding and support they received from the program. And all 10 of the early career investigators who participated in Advance-CTR’s Mentored Research Awards program went on to obtain additional external funding and launch their independent research careers.