Christopher P. Austin, a neurologist and geneticist who directs the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at NIH, spent Wednesday, Nov. 8 touring UC Davis research labs. He gained insights from CTSC program leaders, physicians and scientists on how to improve the movement of observations from the laboratory and clinic into the community with interventions that reach and benefit patients.
“I view what NCATS can do and what you do here as completely interdependent,” Austin said. “We have the national view and you have the labs. It’s important for me to know the issues you’re dealing with.”
He noted that while fundamental science has made tremendous advances over the past 30 to 40 years -- such as the speed of gene sequencing -- not much has changed for treating patients with diseases like Huntington’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
“As scientists, our job is to cure diseases,” he said. “It’s very, very clear who we work for. It’s the patients, full stop. As long as we remember that everything we do is focused on that, we’ll be on the right course to finding novel solutions.”
He emphasized that it’s the job of CTSA program hubs like the UC Davis CTSC to identify disconnects in process and fix them, especially in the clinical areas, which have the “hairiest problems” that are often considered unsolvable.
Building on successes
The CTSC has been very successful in helping investigators, scholars and staff conduct clinical research in several ways through various programs and resources aimed at facilitating research and nurturing the skills necessary to build competent research teams.
The CTSC Clinical Trials Office provides education in regulatory and clinical research administration, helps with study recruitment, and has a vast array of static and interactive resources that guide investigational teams through the myriad of local, state, and federal requirements. “It’s difficult for clinicians to do clinical research,” said Kate Marusina, clinical trials office director. “We de-risk it and have experienced staff to help so they can see patients and not get stuck in paperwork.”
The CTSC Research Education and Career Development program is a very successful model that serves as the administrative home for trainees interested in developing research careers. Most participants are clinical fellows and junior faculty who pursue research through the Mentored Clinical Research Training Program, and NIH’s K grant funding programs. Postdoctoral fellows and graduate students develop translational research skills through the TL1 program, and pursue career development opportunities through the NIH funded FUTURE program, designed to help postdoctoral fellows and PhD students in the biomedical sciences explore and prepare for diverse careers.
“Participants in FUTURE learn to identify and communicate the value that their advanced skills and knowledge can bring to a broad range of careers,” said Jen Greenier, FUTURE program director.
During his visit, Austin also met with physician researchers to discuss various approaches to address the national opioid crisis and toured the Center for Virtual Care and Moore Hall, Institute of Regenerative Cures and GMP Facility.
“Dr. Austin’s visit was a rare opportunity to engage with top leadership at NCATS and showcase the CTSC and a few of the many research resources at UC Davis. We were also pleased to spend time brainstorming ways we can address the opioid crisis from a research angle and remain eager to pursue a broader approach from an institutional level,” said Ted Wun, CTSC director.