NIH awards $100 million for translational research

October 4, 2006

Personalized medicine, which represents the future of medical practice, will take shape in laboratories, not clinics. Molecular diagnostics proven in the low-risk environs that surround preclinical tests will move into the clinical arena. But the effect this field has on healthcare in the U.S. will depend on how, or even whether, these new techniques enter mainstream medical practice.

Personalized medicine, which represents the future of medical practice, will take shape in laboratories, not clinics. Molecular diagnostics proven in the low-risk environs that surround preclinical tests will move into the clinical arena. But the effect this field has on healthcare in the U.S. will depend on how, or even whether, these new techniques enter mainstream medical practice.

Greasing the skids for this transition will be a consortium formed and funded by the National Institutes of Health that involves a dozen U.S. universities. Its goal is no less ambitious than transforming the way research is done, so that new treatments can be brought to patients efficiently and quickly.

The 12 institutions, which this week received the first "translational" funding grants from the NIH, are only the start. More than 50 other academic health centers are working on smaller grants to get ready to join the consortium, which by 2012 is expected to number about 60.

Awards announced this week provide first-year funding for the initial 12 institutions totaling $100 million. When the program is in full swing six years from now, grants are expected to reach $500 million annually.

"The development of this consortium represents the first systematic change in our approach to clinical research in 50 years," said NIH director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni. "These sites, working together, will serve as discovery engines that will improve medical care by applying new scientific advances to real world practice."

The roots of this new system will be grounded in better designs for clinical trials, improved educational environments for the next generation of researchers, and the assembly of interdisciplinary teams that cover the complete spectrum of research from biology to population sciences.

Plans soon to be implemented at the dozen institutions forming the cornerstone of this movement demonstrate that medical imaging and the technology for disseminating diagnostic information will be key.

The University of Pittsburgh will evaluate breast lesions depicted on mammograms and pathology slides using an open source software system. This system, developed by Intel Research and Carnegie Mellon University, rapidly scans and searches large numbers of images. The University of California, Davis plans to use teletechnology to extend new practices into geographically dispersed and ethnically diverse populations.