LEXINGTON, Ky. — The University of Kentucky Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS) has received a $23.5 million, a four-year award from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at the National Institutes of Health. This is the third time the CCTS has successfully competed for the prestigious Clinical and Translational Award (CTSA), with continuous funding since 2011 totaling $65.4 million in research dollars.
Founded in 2006 with the mission of accelerating discoveries to improve health, the CCTS is a disease-agnostic center that supports research from bench to bedside to community, with a particular focus on Appalachia. The center provides a robust research infrastructure for all types of health research, including pilot funding, training, and career development for the next generation of translational researchers, a full spectrum of research support services, community engagement resources, multidisciplinary mentors, and connections to local and national research networks.
Over the past 15 years, the center has introduced new efficiencies and programs to support clinical trials, trained scores of researchers and staff, enhanced regulatory supported, expanded UK’s biomedical informatics infrastructure, increased entrepreneurial support for researchers, and helped establish innovative new centers and resources, both at UK and in the Appalachian region.
The vital role of the CCTS was never more evident than in 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the CCTS leaped into action, leveraging its expert and responsive infrastructure, said CCTS Director Philip Kern, M.D. The center rapidly established a COVID-19 biobank, launched a pilot funding program specifically for COVID, and operationalized a hugely successful COVID-19 vaccine trial unit.
Janssen Pharmaceuticals (of Johnson & Johnson) approached UK vaccine researcher Richard Greenberg, M.D., to lead a site for the phase-three clinical trial of their COVID vaccine, and the CCTS infrastructure made it happen, Kern said. Within 83 days, a newly built COVID vaccine clinical trial unit was up and running. Nearly 900 Kentuckians, including many front-line workers, participated in that trial which got real vaccines in people’s arms two months before any vaccine had received emergency use authorization (EUA).
With its new round of funding, the CCTS plans to expand funding opportunities including a new mechanism to support research on climate change and human health; ramp up its diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts; and build more research partnerships with other institutions. The center will also develop a new team science training resource to provide personalized coaching to multidisciplinary research teams.
The CCTS pilot funding program has, to date, yielded a 20-fold return on investment and resulted in 3,308 peer-reviewed publications with more than 39,000 citations between 2012 and 2017 alone. Pilot grants through the Appalachian Translational Research Network, of which the CCTS was a founding member, have seen a return on investment of nearly 18 to 1.
The CCTS also provides essential clinical and translational research education and training for undergraduates, faculty, and staff through its “career development highway.” To date, 22 junior faculty have completed its KL2 career development program (five more are currently participating), and 41 pre- and post-docs have completed the TL1 clinical and translational science training program. More than 1,000 professional, medical, dental, pharmacy, and clinical psychology students at UK have taken the CCTS’ Introduction to Clinical Research course, and the CCTS was instrumental in developing UK’s certificate and degree programs in clinical and translational science. The center additionally runs six seminar series throughout the academic year.
Since 2018, the CCTS has also led the DREAM Scholars program for faculty in health equity research and/or from minority populations, and in 2019 it launched a similar program, SPARK, for undergraduates.
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