Accelerating research discoveries from bench to bedside

October 26, 2016

Ania Jastreboff , MD, PhD (middle), 2011 YCCI Scholar, meets with her mentors, YCCI director Robert Sherwin, MD, and Rajita Sinha, PhD, YCCI co-director of education. Photo credit: Robert A. Lisak.

For over a decade, we’ve focused on expanding our clinical and translational research enterprise and providing faculty with the resources they need to conduct research that leads to discoveries and therapeutic advances that benefit patients. 

I’m pleased to report that our efforts along these lines will continue to be supported by the National Institutes of Health: The School of Medicine has received $53.6 million from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) to renew our five-year Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA). This is the second renewal for Yale since 2006, when we were among the first 12 institutions nationally to receive CTSA funding.

The CTSA helps support the infrastructure needed to conduct research and educate the next generation of clinical and translational investigators through the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation (YCCI). Since its creation in 2005, YCCI has awarded salary and research support to help launch the careers of 112 junior faculty Scholars who are drawn from a range of disciplines across the Schools of Medicine, Nursing and Public Health, and from the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Given the difficulties of obtaining research support in today’s competitive funding environment, I am particularly proud of this program. These talented young scientists have collectively received $293 million in independent funding—approximately 80 percent of which is attributed to NIH peer-reviewed awards—and have published 2,200 papers. YCCI’s educational offerings also include the Investigative Medicine Program, which awards a PhD in investigative medicine to physicians, and the National Clinician Scholars Program, a fellowship program with four sites that is an evolution of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program.

In its first decade under the CTSA, under the able leadership of director and CTSA Principal Investigator Robert S. Sherwin, MD, and Chief Operating Officer Tesheia Johnson, MBA, MHS, YCCI has launched 36 new programs and helped to expand or enhance the resources of 23 existing programs. These initiatives provide resources that furnish investigators with the tools and expertise they need while helping to ease the increasingly complex administrative burden of conducting clinical research. They include the “Help Us Discover” clinical research recruitment campaign that has contributed to a database of about 9,000 research volunteers and the implementation of a research tab in Epic’s MyChart patient portal that has attracted more than 1,000 volunteers so far. Another innovation is that Yale was the first institution in the country to build a bi-directional interface between Epic and a clinical trial management system and is now considered a national leader in the use of electronic health records to support research.

As we embark upon our third CTSA grant cycle, we are placing a greater emphasis on diseases across the lifespan that includes research on the transition of pediatric patients to adulthood and studies on the aging population. We are also exploring opportunities to engage diverse and underserved populations both in New Haven and through such initiatives as our collaboration with the University of Puerto Rico, where we are working with colleagues on pressing research topics, as well as on expanding the pool of scientific talent through mentoring and training.

As a result of these efforts and the growth of our clinical practice, our research portfolio has grown tremendously: Industry-sponsored clinical research revenue has increased 365 percent over the past 10 years. During this time YCCI has provided over 8,000 services to more than 3,200 projects. Despite the fact that YCCI is widely used, however, a recent survey of researchers revealed a lack of awareness and understanding of the support services YCCI provides. There is clearly an opportunity to greatly broaden the faculty and projects supported by YCCI.

The renewal of our CTSA is a perfect opportunity to remind faculty of all YCCI has to offer. Investigators ranging from those embarking on their first independent project to senior faculty with decades of research grants in their portfolios can benefit from the dozens of research support resources offered by YCCI. Many of these are dedicated to investigator-initiated studies, for which YCCI provides the same level of support as an industry sponsor. YCCI also has a track record of assisting junior faculty in successfully applying for their first major grant.

In addition to providing support that helps speed the translation of treatments from bench to bedside, NCATS provides multiple grant opportunities that are only available to CTSA institutions. These include collaborative grants with other CTSA sites, R series research grants, and clinical trials. YCCI can assist investigators interested in applying for these grants, including identifying and recruiting other CTSA institutions to jointly participate.

I encourage all of our clinical and translational scientists to explore all that YCCI has to offer and to utilize the wealth of resources that are at our disposal.