UT Health San Antonio and partners secure NIH funding to translate scientific discoveries into therapeutic benefits

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (also called UT Health San Antonio) and seven regional collaborators will leverage $46 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) over the next five to seven years to translate scientific discoveries into therapeutic benefits for human health and well-being.

A key focus will be reducing health disparities among Mexican Americans, active military personnel, and veterans.

William L. Henrich, MD, MACP, president of UT Health San Antonio, announced the funding from the NIH Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program today. Henrich thanked partners including The University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School and College of Pharmacy, The University of Texas at San Antonio and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute for supporting the CTSA application. NIH's National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) is the awarding agency.

The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, San Antonio Military Health System, South Texas Veterans Health Care System and University Health are additional collaborators. "This is a consortium of talented individuals at significant institutions working together to ensure that, in the future, society will be transformed through clinical advances," Henrich said.

Sizable impact

UT Health San Antonio, the coordinating center for the South-Central Texas CTSA Program hub, first gained CTSA funding in 2008 and successfully competed for grant renewals in 2013 and 2018. Combining the previous CTSA awards and supplements with the new grants, the cumulative NIH investment in South and Central Texas through the CTSA program is projected to reach $126 million by 2030.

"Translational research has tended to focus on a particular disease, such as diabetes or lupus, and ask specific questions about causes, outcomes or interventions. With this new award, we will ask broader questions about clinical translational science, such as how to push ideas along toward national application in the clinic more quickly and effectively," said Robert A. Clark, MD, professor of medicine and director of the Institute for Integration of Medicine & Science (IIMS), which administers the CTSA Program hub at UT Health San Antonio and interacts with the regional collaborators.

Removing barriers

The goal will be to remove barriers that currently hinder the translation of scientific discoveries into new therapies for incurable diseases. Securing CTSA funding for a fourth time is an extraordinary accomplishment for this team of experts in our region."

Robert A. Hromas, MD, FACP, dean of the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio and vice president for medical affairs

"Translational science is about accelerating innovation to impact health, which will reduce disease and improve health," said Jennifer Sharpe Potter, PhD, MPH, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and vice president for research, UT Health San Antonio. "After 15 years of continuous funding, the additional seven years of NCATS funding reflects the quality of work conducted at UT Health San Antonio with our partners and collaborators and permits us to explore and develop strategies for the most critical challenges impacting health in South and Central Texas."

Working side by side with communities

Seeking ways to reduce health disparities is a central theme of the South-Central Texas CTSA Program hub. Community engagement is crucial for this activity.

"We care so deeply about the South Texas community. Our researchers will work side by side with community members to plan future health programs and share scientific innovations in a way that is equitable, culturally tailored, actionable and reflective of local needs. The community voice will be omnipresent as we work together to reduce health disparities and build health equity," said Amelie G. Ramirez, DrPH, MPH, professor and chair of population health sciences in the Long School of Medicine. She directs the Institute for Health Promotion Research and is associate director of cancer outreach and engagement at the Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio.

"This is a unique opportunity to truly engage the community to identify needs and build responsive health research, programs and communications that will make a difference in the lives of South Texans and serve as a model for other communities with large Latino populations," Ramirez added.

Pilot grants

The Institute for Integration of Medicine & Science has offered pilot project awards since the first CTSA grant in 2008, typically $50,000 for one-year projects. The new expanded grant funding through 2030 will enable larger pilot projects supported over a couple of years at $125,000 to $150,000, said Kenneth M. Hargreaves, DDS, PhD, professor and chair of endodontics in the UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry.

"These pilot grant awards are critical to developing the next generation of clinical translational scientists in South and Central Texas," Hargreaves said. "The grants are specifically in the area of clinical translational science and ask how we can get answers more quickly and push ideas forward more effectively."

Hargreaves, Potter, Ramirez and Clark together form the Multiple Principal Investigator group, which comprises the leadership of the UT Health San Antonio CTSA program.

Important partners

The inclusion of UT Austin, UTSA and Texas Biomed into the South-Central Texas CTSA Program hub is critical because their combined record of NIH grant support moved up the funding level by about $1 million a year compared with the amount that UT Health San Antonio would otherwise have received, Clark said.

"These partners provide input to our leadership and in some cases serve as co-leaders of one or another of the CTSA components," Clark said. "They also are a source of talented students and junior faculty for the training and career development portions of the CTSA."

The South-Central Texas hub recently received notice of T32 training grant funding and a K12 Mentored Career Development Award. These NCATS grants will enhance the hub's educational offerings.

The Institute for Integration of Medicine & Science also runs a pair of degree programs in concert with UT Health San Antonio's Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. These are the Master of Science in Clinical Investigation (MSCI) program and the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Translational Science program. Shorter, topic-related certificates are offered through the MSCI program, including in cancer prevention and data science.

The community engagement function includes translational advisory boards, which are county-level groups of stakeholders who meet monthly or quarterly to discuss unmet local health needs. The CTSA Program hub also supports practice-based research networks in which research questions emanate from observations made in physician, dentist and other practitioner offices.

About 60 biomedical research institutions across the nation currently receive CTSA funding. "We are glad to be part of NCATS' vision for how the health and well-being of America can be improved through translational science and community engagement," Hromas said.

UT Health San Antonio is currently the only academic medical center in Texas to have each of these recognitions: 1) Clinical and Translational Science Award, 2) National Institute on Aging-designated Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer's and Neurodegenerative Diseases in collaboration with UT Rio Grande Valley), and 3) National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center (Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson).

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