The Clinical and Translational Research Award (CTSA) has been greeted enthusiastically by the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and its partner institutions: The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, The University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, The Wistar Institute. The Penn led proposal was funded in the first round of CTSAs, and we have just completed our renewal. The overarching themes of the Penn proposal are (i) fostering the development of Translational Therapeutics and (ii) bridging the artificial divide between pediatric and adult physiology and disease.
A strategic plan had identified clinical and translational research as a priority, leading to the launch of the Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics (ITMAT) in January 2005. ITMAT anticipated many aspects of the CTSA – amongst them, inclusion of the GCRC, dedicated "dry" and "wet" bench space for translational research, and a robust educational program, configured on a Master of Science in Translational Research (MSTR). This CTSA application prompted intra- and inter-institutional consideration of how to build on this achievement. This has forged a transformational alliance between Penn, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), the Wistar Institute (WI) and the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia (USP).
Faculty from nine of the 12 schools at Penn and from the partner institutions are represented in leadership roles in the response to this CTSA. ITMAT, designated as the "academic home" for clinical and translational research, has been broadened to serve a trans-institutional role. Its structure has been transformed to foster interdisciplinary science from discovery of new molecules through to the study of drug action in large populations. This has been accomplished by developing interdisciplinary centers, related cores, innovative interdisciplinary programs of research, and strategies to engage and inform communities and their physicians. A particular emphasis has been placed on training and innovative programs, which cover the entire career span, engaging undergraduate students through to mature clinicians.
The current cycle of our award will focus on (i) democratization of access of our trainees and faculty to resources such as the Penn Medicine Biobank and the array of bioinformatic approaches developed at Penn; (ii) democratization of access to the fruits of translational science exemplified by studies integrating community outreach, remote sensing and behavioral economics to enhance uptake of anti-hypertensive and lipid lowering drugs in underserved urban and rural populations; (iii) a focus on access to novel life altering therapies for diseases more common in underserved populations as exemplified by Sickle Cell Disease and (iv) an continuation of our focus on precision medicine and translational therapeutics including cell and gene therapy and vaccines, programs in chronobiology and the use of genetic risk scores.
All aspects of our program have elements focused on the current pandemic. These include a novel program in interdisciplinary approaches to emerging zoonoses, educational initiatives, major use of the biobank and programmatic support for therapeutic initiatives.
In summary, this initiative has fostered:
- An integrated strategy to develop clinical and translational research by Penn, CHOP, the WI and USP – more than 500 investigators from these institutions are now members of ITMAT; and
- The transformation and expansion of ITMAT. This has permitted the development of interdisciplinary structures designed to foster and facilitate research and education in this emerging discipline.