Excellence in translational research

November 22, 2013

During the past few months, many of us watched with interest as some folks in Missouri considered whether to approve a sales tax to fund translational research. This is, after all, a field in which we have much experience.

In 2008, Johnson County voters approved the Johnson County Education and Research tax, which funds the KU Clinical Research Center in Fairway, a building donated by the Hall Family Foundation. Thanks to this unique public-private partnership, patients now come from across the world to participate in leading-edge clinical trials and first-in-human trials of promising cancer drugs.

We are experts in this crucial life-saving research, and our communities enjoy its associated economic development benefits. But we also know how difficult it is to articulate what the term "translational research" means, how best to fund it and its benefits to society. Translational research essentially describes work that helps transform basic science discoveries into new treatments and cures. This can mean the development of new drugs or preventive measures for any disease. Because KU Medical Center's scientists are focused on solving the mysteries of human disease, most of our research could be considered translational.

KU Medical Center has earned a place among the nation's leaders in translational research. We have also led the regional effort in translational research, which is and will continue to be a major focus of our partnerships across the Kansas City metro.

In June 2011, thanks to years of hard work by principal investigators Rick Barohn and Lauren Aaronson, KU Medical Center received a $20 million Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Institutes of Health. This five-year grant put the medical center among an elite group of universities collaborating on clinical and translational research across the country. We named our CTSA effort Frontiers: The Heartland Institute for Clinical and Translational Research.

Through Frontiers, KU Medical Center is working with more than two dozen universities, community organizations and hospitals in the region - including Saint Luke's Health System, Children's Mercy and the University of Missouri-Kansas City - to help speed the delivery of discoveries to patients.

That $20 million in funding has helped create a trove of resources for clinical and translational researchers: everything from training opportunities for scientists throughout the region to the research infrastructure support that's necessary to do the work.

We're already seeing some great results. To list just a few examples:

  • Trials at the KU Clinical Research Center are giving new hope to those fighting rare and neglected diseases. I'm glad we can offer that chance to people like Bruce Wells, a pet store owner from New Zealand who came to KU Medical Center to help us learn more about Pompe disease, a rare genetic condition that slowly attacks muscles and makes patients progressively weaker.

  • Our Alzheimer's Disease Center at KU Medical Center will use a state-of-the-art exercise facility supported by Frontiers to enroll healthy patients 65 and older in a new trial - supported by a $3 million NIH grant - that will look to find new answers about the role exercise can play in maintaining a healthy brain. The study is seeking people from throughout the metro to participate in the trial.

  • The drug development and repurposing experts at The University of Kansas Cancer Center and the Institute for Advancing Medical Innovation (IAMI) are working with disease philanthropy organizations and government agencies to make leukemia treatments out of drugs that have already been approved for other purposes. Their most recent success is the transformation of an old arthritis drug to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia, the most common form of leukemia. For more than 5,900 chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients this year, previously existing treatments will fail them. This approach - collaborating to find new uses for old drugs - helped IAMI and its partners advance this new idea from the test tube to patients in 11 months. That process can normally take years to complete. And now, our experts are expanding that model and working with others in the region, including Children's Mercy Hospital, to come up with more innovative treatments for adults and children who are fighting all sorts of deadly diseases.

Because we know the challenges involved in recruiting patients to participate in clinical trials, Frontiers has made it easier with the launch of PioneersResearch.org, a website where members of the community can volunteer to participate in clinical research across the Kansas City region. We believe anyone can help advance the power of medicine, and this is a great way to do it.

These are just a few examples of the excellent work in translational medicine happening each day on our campus and across the region. KU Medical Center is proud to be the local hub for translational research, providing resources and encouraging collaboration among scientists and in communities throughout the region. For us, Frontiers has no boundaries.

Last modified: Nov 22, 2013