New Programs Aim to Diversify Research Participants, Better Integrate Technology Into Studies
UC San Francisco’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) has received $85 million over five years from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue to provide training, research support and other services, and to launch new programs aimed at diversifying the patients in research and advancing precision medicine.
“Over the past 10 years, our CTSI has been focused on accelerating research to improve health,” said Jennifer Grandis, MD, associate vice chancellor of clinical and translational research and CTSI director. “We are committed to using these valuable NIH resources to help all UCSF investigators and trainees further that goal.”
The new efforts seek to remove barriers to utilizing electronic medical records and emerging technologies, so research can be conducted more efficiently and in a broadly representative patient population, while ensuring that it is done securely and with informed consent. These efforts are also aimed at helping researchers, who may not be experts in technology, integrate high-tech tools into their work so they can take advantage of many different types of data, from the biological to the social and behavioral, and at the individual and population level.
“This technology-enabled revolution, in which measurements are being made remotely and database platforms can integrate information from many sources, is well underway, but investigators still face many hurdles,” said Mark Pletcher, MD, MPH, a UCSF professor of epidemiology and biostatistics who is leading the informatics and research innovation components of the new grant. “We want to make it easier, faster and more cost-effective for investigators at UCSF and elsewhere to use these new tools.”
CTSI will also continue its focus on engaging the community in research and public health initiatives such as a collaboration with the San Francisco Health Improvement Partnership that reduced consumption of sugary beverages among San Francisco high school students. Other community-based programs helped prevent tooth decay in low-income children by providing fluoride varnish and demonstrated the utility of colon cancer screening at flu shot clinics.
With the new grant, CTSI will launch an effort to include more diverse participants in research, including children, the elderly and socially and medically vulnerable populations. These groups have a higher burden of disease, in part because of their greater exposure to social and environmental risks, yet they have been underrepresented in research. The initiative, led by Dean Schillinger, MD, professor of medicine, will promote research across the lifespan and expand research networks to reach more diverse populations.
A third major new effort focuses on precision health. CTSI will offer specialized training and create a comprehensive biospecimen resources program, so patients can give informed consent to researchers to use specimens collected during clinical care. A new virtual biobank will ensure these specimens are stored and catalogued in a way that makes them accessible to researchers throughout the university.
“Our overarching goal in precision medicine is to enable data-driven, mechanism-based health and healthcare for each individual,” said Scott VandenBerg, MD, PhD, a professor of pathology who is heading the biobanking initiative. “To do this, we need a richly annotated, centralized, searchable, web-based biospecimen database that can be integrated with population level and other research data, as well as with electronic health records.”
UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy; a graduate division with nationally renowned programs in basic, biomedical, translational and population sciences; and a preeminent biomedical research enterprise. It also includes UCSF Health, which comprises two top-ranked hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco, and other partner and affiliated hospitals and healthcare providers throughout the Bay Area.