The South Carolina Clinical & Translational Research (SCTR) Institute, one of about 60 Clinical and Translational Award (CTSA) hubs nationwide, has been awarded a five-year renewal of more than $24 million from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. CTSAs seek to ensure that all patients, regardless of their ethnicity or geographic location, receive the benefits of the latest discoveries and technological innovations. SCTR has been continuously funded as a CTSA since 2009 and received its highest score yet on this renewal.
“SCTR continues to be best in class among the CTSA hubs.”
-- Dr. David Cole, MUSC president
MUSC President David J. Cole, M.D., FACS, and MUSC College of Medicine Dean Raymond N. DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., both welcomed the news and underscored the essential role SCTR has played in helping the state to build its translational research infrastructure and in sharing research findings so as to improve the health of all South Carolinians.
“SCTR continues to be best in class among the CTSA hubs,” said Cole. “My vision is for MUSC to be a national leader in research that transforms the delivery of health care, and SCTR has helped us, and others across the state, build the infrastructure that will enable us to realize that vision.”
DuBois agrees. “The CTSA represents the NIH’s largest single investment in biomedical research, and these awards are given to institutions in order to establish academic homes for translational research,” he said. “We are definitely on the cutting edge of translational and clinical science when compared to our peers.”
MUSC vice president for research Kathleen Brady, M.D., Ph.D., who has served as SCTR’s director since its inception, and MUSC associate provost for research compliance and regulatory affairs Patrick A. Flume, M.D., are co-principal investigators for the grant.
“Since 2009, SCTR has transformed the research environment across South Carolina by supporting high-quality clinical and translational research, collaboration and innovation.”
-- Dr. Kathleen Brady, SCTR director
Other members of the leadership team include associate principal investigators Marc Chimowitz, MBChB; Perry Halushka, M.D., Ph.D.; Leslie A. Lenert, M.D.; and Kevin Gray, M.D., as well as SCTR primary administrator and chief operating officer Royce Sampson, M.S.N. and SCTR science development officer Tammy Loucks, Dr.PH.
Brady is proud of SCTR’s legacy and the difference it has made to the state.
“Since 2009, SCTR has transformed the research environment across South Carolina by supporting high-quality clinical and translational research, collaboration and innovation,” she said. “Headquartered at MUSC, SCTR has engaged stakeholders and created partnerships across the state to improve care and address health issues.”
For this renewal period, SCTR will partner with Health Sciences South Carolina (HSSC), a public-private collaborative of research universities and health systems; Clemson University, the state’s land grant university; and South Carolina State University (SCSU), one of about 100 historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) in the nation.
SCTR will work with HSSC to continue to develop bioinformatics tools to identify patients from diverse races, genders and ethnicities who are eligible for clinical trials and to enhance other bioinformatics tools that collect mortality, readmission and other clinical data so that they can be shared with investigators and health system administrators across the state.
"Research data systems in this renewal are focused on cloud-based tools for interoperability and patient-led data exchange, which should help SCTR rapidly expand the footprint of its learning health system to a truly statewide level,” said Lenert,who serves as HSSC vice president and chief medical officer as well as MUSC’s chief research information officer and director of the Biomedical Informatics Center at MUSC.
“SCTR and its researchers will have the opportunity to leverage regional hub clinics, mobile health vans, telehealth, extension offices and other resources in bringing research into underserved communities.”
-- Dr. Ron Gimbel, Clemson director for Healthy Me – Healthy SC
SCTR will also team up with Clemson University and the collaborative Clemson-MUSC Healthy Me – Healthy SC Alliance aimed at improving health outcomes and equity in the state for education in translational research, clinical trial recruitment and sharing of research results.
“The renewal of the SCTR grant is a real boon for advancing Healthy Me – Healthy SC Alliance goals,” said Ron Gimbel, Ph.D., who is the Clemson director for Healthy Me – Healthy SC and chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences at Clemson University. “SCTR and its researchers will have the opportunity to leverage regional hub clinics, mobile health vans, telehealth, extension offices and other resources in bringing research into underserved communities.”
Finally, SCTR will partner with SCSU to establish a clinical trials unit and facilitate the development of a research education pipeline at the university. Marvella E. Ford, Ph.D., who holds a joint appointment at SCSU and MUSC and is the new lead for SCTR’s Integrating Special Populations Program, will direct those efforts in collaboration with SCSU leaders, such as Learie B. Luke, Ph.D., acting provost at SCSU, and Judith D. Salley, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biological and Physical Sciences.
“We are excited to be the first HBCU to partner with the SCTR Institute.”
-- Dr. Judith Salley, SCSU
"We are excited to be the first HBCU to partner with the SCTR Institute,” said Salley. “This collaboration will provide statewide access to unique and innovative opportunities for our faculty researchers and undergraduate students to engage in clinical trials education and translational research.”
Renewal of the SCTR grant, Brady explained, recognizes the significant contributions SCTR has already made to clinical and translational research and the strong vision it has for the future.
An impressive legacy
Since 2009, SCTR has streamlined the initiation and conduct of clinical trials, the main mechanism for determining whether a new therapy works. It has collaborated with partners throughout the state to make a listing of all active clinical trials available to the public (SCresearch.org). It has sped up the launch of clinical trials, improved patient enrollment and helped ensure that trials are cost-effective. SCTR’s efforts have been so successful that the university created an Office of Clinical Research to continue the work.
SCTR has also developed electronic tools, such as the research transaction management system SPARCRequest, which have not only made the conduct of clinical trials and other studies more efficient at MUSC, but they have also been adopted by other CTSAs throughout the country. A clinical trial management system being launched across the MUSC enterprise will facilitate the collection of performance metrics and enrollment statistics for clinical trials.
SCTR pilot funding has supported early-stage projects in translational science, team science and community-engaged research and will now also support telehealth. For almost a decade, SCTR’s Community-Engaged Scholars Program has encouraged community members to take an active role not only in defining the research questions a project will explore but also in implementing the project and sharing its results.
SCTR has also made great strides in growing and supporting all levels of the translational workforce. It created the Mentorship Leadership Council, chaired by Chimowitz, which standardized mentoring plans across the university, adding this type of plan as a criterion for tenure and promotion. It worked with Human Resources to ensure that grant-supported employees receive pay and benefits that are equitable to those received by classified employees. It has trained more than 1,500 research coordinators (600 online) statewide.
Translational research is most effective, said Brady, when basic scientists and clinicians collaborate. To encourage such collaboration, SCTR’s TL1 program, directed by Halushka, requires its predoctoral scholars to spend time in the clinic. There, they shadow scholars in SCTR’s KL2 program, directed by Chimowitz. KL2 scholars are early-career clinicians with release time from clinical duties to apply for funding to pursue research.
A strong vision for the future
Flume, Brady said, is poised to help to lead SCTR into the future. He looks forward to the many new initiatives that will come with this renewal.
“For this next grant period, we will leverage our strengths and new regional affiliations to extend our reach into rural South Carolina,” said Flume. “Our new program on dissemination and implementation will strive to enhance delivery of best practices to improve the health of those we serve – the people of South Carolina.”
The Dissemination and Implementation Science Collaborative, led by Dee Ford, M.D., will use innovative approaches and harness cutting-edge technology to ensure that all residents, even those in rural areas, are able to have the opportunity to participate in and learn from research. Participant engagement groups will help researchers to obtain input from community stakeholders and learn which outcomes the community cares about.
Through its work with Clemson, SCTR will engage with extension offices as venues for educational offerings and clinical trial recruitment and for the sharing of research results. It will also tap into MUSC’s strong telehealth presence in the state, using teleconsent to enroll patients virtually and innovative remote trial methodology to conduct trials at a distance.
With the renewed funding, SCTR will continue to be a national player in the field of translational science. It will raise the profile of MUSC and its statewide partners and affiliates as innovators in health science and pioneers in care-changing research.