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The University and several affiliated partners submitted a five-year, $20 million grant proposal last week to the National Institutes of Health after more than three years of intensive planning. The grant would establish a statewide center for connecting cutting-edge medical research with improved patient care.

If the NIH awards the Brown-based consortium one of 60 clinical and translational science award grants — 46 of which have already been doled out — next spring, the University plans to use the funds to support a slew of educational opportunities, infrastructure expansion and pilot awards, said James Padbury, a professor of pediatrics and the proposal's principle investigator. The grant would also create a new Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences, an academic consortium including area hospitals and the University of Rhode Island.

Translational science, Padbury said, is "accelerating the base of impact of basic insights into clinical advancements." By enabling physicians to apply advancements in laboratory research to a patient's bedside more effectively, the emerging field facilitates faster diagnosis and treatment for patients, he said.

In addition to Brown professors and researchers, the Center will involve clinical faculty in area hospitals including the Lifespan hospital partners — such as Rhode Island Hospital, Hasbro Children's Hospital and Miriam Hospital.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, which operates the VA Medical Center in Providence, is also engaged in the effort, as is corporate partner IBM. Padbury said the consortium is exploring "computer approaches to handle large data sets."

Along with the hospitals and URI, the Rhode Island State Department of Health, the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. and the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation also joined in the proposal effort.

With future funding, Padbury said, the University has plans to offer two new academic tracks in translational science for master's and Ph.D. programs. The University already offers a master's degree in public health, but Padbury said professors in the Program in Public Health have proposed the new Master of Science track and plan to propose the Ph.D. program in conjunction with the graduate school if the University receives the spring award.

The grant will not only provide funding to support programs, but will also generate jobs through new scientific opportunities, dovetailing with the University's desire to foster a "knowledge-based economy" across the state, Padbury said. 80 percent of the grant would go toward supporting personnel involved in research and patient care, he added.

Though Brown is competing with institutions nationwide, Padbury said he is confident the University will ultimately win the NIH award given the three-year effort to secure the top grant.

"There's been great energy, great participation, great enthusiasm," Padbury said about the collaborative efforts in securing the grant. "We're going to get it."
Long in the works

Though the University submitted the official grant proposal last week, the bid has been in the works since September 2006, when the NIH awarded a $150,000 CTSA Planning Grant to Brown.

With the funds from the planning grant, the University created a virtual center for clinical and translational sciences, which was a prerequisite to apply for the larger NIH grant — "the catalyst and the academic home" for the award, according to the 537-page grant proposal.

"The past couple of years have been strategic," said Courtney Henderson, the CTSA planning grant manager. "This process has really been a catalyst for collaboration."

The past three years have been spent on "capacity building," Henderson said, a process involving identification of different departments' needs through surveys and various assessments. The University also launched an eight-week summer course on translational science for postdoctoral researchers and graduate students in the public health program, she said.

Using the center as its conceptual hub, Henderson said, Brown offered symposia on issues related to the research field's methodology and created statewide scientific collaboratives, interdisciplinary think tanks that help "cross-fertilize" research from affiliated institutions.

"It's a connecting point between the different types of research," Henderson said. "We do have this culture of collaboration throughout Rhode Island, and we've been able to leverage that to submit awards."

The planning grant  — and the subsequently created fundamental collaborative concept — helped the University promote statewide communication between research institutions and develop solutions to break down administrative obstacles preventing effective communication, said Professor of Medicine Timothy Flanigan, who spearheaded the effort for the original grant and helped Padbury write the recent grant proposal. Funds from the planning grant, he said, were also used to train University-based researchers to handle administrative tasks such as submitting projects to the institutional review boards at area hospitals for approval and issuing budget requests and subcontracts.

If the University receives the second award, Flanigan said, Brown would build a physical space whose plans originally called for its administrative home to be located in Arnold Laboratory. "There is commitment for a dedicated space," Flanigan said. "It will be very robust."



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