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New clinical and translational science research unit opens

January 08, 2020

By Kristi Birch

Richard J. Barohn, M.D., Andra Lahner, BSN-RN, Mario Castro, M.D., MPH, Jeffrey Burns, M.D., and Elisabeth Pauley, BSN-RN. Photo by Elissa Monroe, KU Medical Center.
Richard J. Barohn, M.D., Andra Lahner, BSN-RN, Mario Castro, M.D., MPH, Jeffrey Burns, M.D., and Elisabeth Pauley, BSN-RN. Photo by Elissa Monroe, KU Medical Center.

A new research unit that will greatly expand the capacity for scientists to conduct clinical trials opened at the University of Kansas Medical Center on Jan. 13. It is the first clinical and translational science unit (CTSU) on the main KU Medical Center campus in Kansas City, Kansas.

Clinical and translational science takes discoveries made in the laboratory or the field and translates them into new treatments for patients. Clinical trials—research studies in which people volunteer to participate in the testing of new drugs, devices, procedures and other health care interventions—are a critical step in that process. CTSUs provide the space, equipment and specially trained staff necessary to carry out clinical research.

CTSUs are central to the mission of Frontiers: University of Kansas Clinical and Translational Science Institute, which was established by the KU Medical Center in 2011 with a five-year, $20 million Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. As part of a network of more than 50 such hubs across the country, Frontiers accelerates research by connecting scientists to resources, providing training and facilitating collaboration among researchers, institutions and communities. Frontiers was awarded a second five-year CTSA grant, for $25 million, in 2017.

The new CTSU occupies renovated space on the second floor of Sudler Hall, and there are plans to expand into the ground floor of Delp Pavilion in the next year or two. It has five exam rooms; six infusion bays for intravenous drug delivery; two phlebotomy bays for blood draws; a kitchen; a sample processing laboratory with refrigerators, freezers, and centrifuges; a conference room; and workspace for coordinators. It also has a pulmonary testing laboratory with equipment to test lung function. A nurse trained in clinical research protocols, a medical assistant and an administrative assistant staff the unit.

"This new CTSU will to help fulfill the main mission of Frontiers, which is assisting our investigators in developing, accomplishing and completing their clinical translational research projects," said Richard J. Barohn, M.D., director of Frontiers and vice chancellor for research at KU Medical Center. "And the result should be more discoveries that bring new treatments to patients in Kansas and beyond."

Located on the main KU Medical Center campus on Rainbow Boulevard in Kansas City, Kansas, the new unit builds on the success of the CTSUs in Fairway, Kansas and the KU School of Medicine-Wichita and a pediatric unit at Children's Mercy in Kansas City, Missouri.

The location of the new CTSU is key. The CTSU in Fairway is just three miles south of the main KU Medical Center campus, but even a short drive can be a barrier for busy researchers, and the Fairway unit is operating at near capacity.

"A number of investigators have been asking for resources on this campus," said Jeffrey Burns, M.D., co-director of the University of Kansas Alzheimer's Disease Center and the Edward H. Hashinger Professor of Medicine, who oversees the overall CTSU program for Frontiers. "We wanted to make it easier for them to do their clinical research."

The new CTSU is directed by Mario Castro, M.D., MPH, chief of the pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine division of the Department of Internal Medicine and vice chair for clinical and translational research. Castro joined the KU Medical Center in 2019 after 25 years at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where he oversaw the asthma and airway translational research unit, which conducted 30 clinical trials at a time.

"Dr. Castro is a national and international leader in clinical and translational research in asthma," said Matthias Salathe, M.D., the Peter T. Bohan Chair of Internal Medicine and professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine. "He has the know-how and experience to lead this unit."

Castro will use the CTSU to continue his research on asthma and COPD, while also beginning a large-scale multi-decade study on lung function. Salathe will also use the new CTSU for his studies, which include trials to find out if medications, such as those used to treat hypertension, can be repurposed to reduce to airway inflammation in people with cystic fibrosis, and research into how vaping causes lung inflammation in young adults. 

Castro said that while the Fairway unit is ideal for many research participants, the new CTSU is more accessible for some individuals being treated at the adjoining University of Kansas Health System. "If someone being treated at the pulmonary clinic on the fourth floor of the Medical Office Building [at the KU Health System] has advanced lung disease, for example, it's very difficult for them to travel to another location to participate in patient research," said Castro. "Our vision is that every patient seen in the hospital or our clinics will have the opportunity to participate in research."

"The new CTSU will be a huge boon to us," said Alan Yu, M.B, B.Chir., director of the division of Nephrology and Hypertension and the Kidney Institute at KU Medical Center. "Because of its proximity to the hospital, outpatient clinic building and the Hoglund Brain Imaging Center, it will be ideally situated for participants coming in that need imaging studies on site, hospital services, or are combining their research study visit with an outpatient ambulatory clinic visit."

The new CTSU is available for use by researchers across all three schools of the KU Medical Center and any Frontiers partner institution. Funding to establish the new CTSU came from three sources: Frontiers, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, and the Department of Internal Medicine. Researchers wanting to use the CTSU will need to factor the cost of CTSU services into their grant budget. Investigators can hire the CTSU for as many or as few services as they need, said Andra Lahner, BSN-RN, who leads the day-to-day operations of the new CTSU. Elisabeth Pauley, BSN-RN, runs the CTSU in Fairway.

A grand opening celebration will be held Jan. 31, 2020, in the new CTSU location.

Last modified: Jan 13, 2020
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