U of M Institute with a ‘Bench-to-Bedside’ Mission Receives $42.6M Grant
Dr. Bruce Blazer. Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota

U of M Institute with a ‘Bench-to-Bedside’ Mission Receives $42.6M Grant

The university’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, which helps support research in various behind-the-scenes ways, awarded funds from the National Institutes of Health.

Scientific health researchers at the University of Minnesota will have an easier go at funding their research projects after the National Institutes of Health awarded the school a five-year, $42.6 million grant.
The federal grant, the university said Friday, was received by its Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CSTI), which, among other uses, helps develop the U’s biotechnology research projects to the point of clinical trials. Grant money comes from the National Institute of Health’s Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) program.
This isn’t the first time the U’s CSTI was the recipient of CSTA money. In 2011, the institute received a five-year, $51 million grant, which helped fund more than 170 clinical and translational research projects conducted by the University of Minnesota and community researchers.
“It’s considered a new grant, but it builds in part on what you’ve done before,” explained Dr. Bruce Blazar, CTSI director and Academic Health Center associate vice president for Clinical and Translational Science. “You created structures with the first round, and now [it’s about] leveraging those structures… building further on those with new awards.”
Some of those “structures” Blazar referred to include course programs. Blazar said that the courses range in who they target – different classes for people at different career levels, from PhD candidates to more senior university faculty – and in what their focus is – from career development to research strategies, and more.
Grant money also goes toward day-to-day resources including salary support for staff, and to helping get research from the “bench to the patient,” said Blazar. This encompasses offering study design analysis, easing administrative burdens of studies, bringing in experts from the patent and technology transfer industry to provide advice, and otherwise aiding in developing a pathway to the clinic.
Additionally, the grant funding is used for community outreach. Blazar said they look to target underrepresented populations, including children, older individuals and those with addictions to heroin and opioids. Case in point: the opioid health crisis is the focus of one beneficiary of the initial $51 million grant. The original grant also helped fund a rapid infection diagnostic tool and improving health outcomes for incarcerated women and their families.
Money from the 2011 award enabled her to organize a community forum on opioid use. It brought together people from the rural community and Minnesota’s tribal nation to provide information and engage them in a dialogue.
“[The grant helped] launch my career in terms of community outreach,” said Laura Palombi, a pharmacist who specializes in public health. Without the original $51 million grant, Palombi believes an opium awareness forum she created in northern Minnesota would never have happened.
“[The program is] really giving new researchers an opportunity,” she said.
Since the first grant-assisted forum in the fall of 2015, Palombi has organized a forum every couple of months – not all of which, though, were on opioids. She’s already expecting fierce competition for the new $42.6 million grant money.
“We are not focused on a particular disease or problem,” said Blazar. “[The money is for] providing the resources – personnel and financial – to help the most meritorious works. We have very well-defined plans for distribution.”
Those plans include helping partners of CTSI, as the institute is part of a consortium of entities that collaborate on health goals and works closely with key figures in the Minnesota health scene. One of their approximately 19 area partners is the Hennepin County Medical Center. CTSI also collaborates with the Mayo Clinic.
Moreover, Blazar noted that between money awarded to the Mayo Clinic and CTSI, $91.5 million in federal clinical and translational research funding has been infused across the state in the last six months. He said that money, in particular, was aiding the state’s efforts to be a major national player in medicine.
“Every new therapy we bring forward, every patent, every new initiative we have to support, brings resources, people or funds into the state,” said Blazar. “And because there’s a relatively sizable amount of money involved, it has a proportional impact.”
Blazar said they initially applied for the grant in January 2016, were told to strengthen certain aspects, resubmitted the application and were approved last summer. He explained the committee wanted to see approaches to shorten human subject approval time, expanded workforce diversity, and an overarching vision of what CTSI wanted to do.
“Our vision,” Blazar explained, “[is to] facilitate infrastructure needed, which includes the training of the next generation of researches, in a way that… [focuses on] ‘bench to bedside’ and touches on community population needs.”
The U’s proposal, he added, emphasized the school’s and region’s historical significance in medicine. Upon receiving the first year’s worth of grant funding in March, Blazar said CTSI is ready to continue their mission.
“It’s not just about lab research that gets all the attention,” said Palombi. “It’s about the impact on the community… I know it’s going to make a huge difference for people in the state of Minnesota.”