UT Health San Antonio receives $24 million NIH research boost

For the third time in 10 years, UT Health San Antonio has garnered highly competitive National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants to speed the translation of research discovery into improved patient care.

UT Health San Antonio will receive $24 million over the next five years under the Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) Program. The university is a CTSA Program hub and collaborates with eight regional partners (listed at the end of this release).

“This is an enthusiastic vote of confidence in our institution’s ability to affect the future,” said William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP, president of UT Health San Antonio. “We are proud of our track record of accomplishment in advancing community health.”

“This program will bring cutting-edge treatments to San Antonio in new clinical trials to help the most complicated-to-treat patients,” said Robert A. Hromas, M.D., FACP, dean of the Joe R. & Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine and vice president for medical affairs at UT Health San Antonio. “This CTSA Program funding also emphasizes maintaining the health of our communities and not just the treatment of illness.”

“The CTSA Program enables research teams to address systemwide scientific and operational problems in clinical and translational research, and provides crucial resources to develop biomedical professionals to improve health in the communities that we serve,” said Andrea Giuffrida, Ph.D., vice president for research and professor of pharmacology at UT Health San Antonio. “This prestigious award will also secure our place in the national CTSA consortium and enable us to compete for other research awards open only to CTSA institutions.”

Three-time winner: 2008, 2013 and 2018

The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), one of 27 institutes and centers of NIH, awards CTSA Program funding. UT Health San Antonio, which attracted its first CTSA designation in 2008 and repeated in 2013, is in very select company nationally.

“We compete with many other prestigious institutions for this funding,” said Robert A. Clark, M.D., MACP, director of the Institute for Integration of Medicine and Science, which administers the CTSA Program at UT Health San Antonio. “There are only approximately 60 of these CTSA Program hubs throughout the nation, and it’s all the best places.”

Moreover, UT Health San Antonio is one of only 43 academic medical centers to function as a CTSA Program hub while at the same time meeting the needs of patients and families as a National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Center. The Mays Cancer Center is the newly named home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center.

From the seeds of discovery to human application

CTSA funding is broad based and does not focus on research of a specific disease, Dr. Clark said. It supports pilot projects in cancer, heart disease, diabetes, regenerative medicine, aging, neuroscience and a plethora of other areas. Pilot projects are funded based on their potential to mature into major research investigations that can benefit humanity.

One CTSA-funded pilot project enabled William P. Clarke, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology at UT Health San Antonio, to begin rodent tests of a new drug that prevents damage to peripheral sensory nerves caused by the anticancer drug Taxol® (paclitaxel). Dr. Clarke is collaborating with a group from UT Southwestern that discovered the drug, and will continue efforts to uncover the basis of its protective effects. After the initial CTSA Program funding, the group secured a large grant from Calico Life Sciences, the health company founded by Google.

Another pilot project, conducted by Sara Espinoza, M.D., associate professor of medicine (geriatrics), examined the effects of a diabetes drug called metformin on various parameters of health and performance in senior adults. Dr. Espinoza leveraged the data obtained in that project to attract a larger NIH research grant.

Investment has been rewarded

“We follow very closely our return on investment from our support of pilot projects, junior faculty scholars and trainees,” Dr. Clark said. “From a $3 million investment, the total of downstream grants is currently approaching $30 million.”

The Institute for Integration of Medicine and Science at UT Health San Antonio has funded 150 pilot project awards since 2009.

Training in the translation of science

Workforce development is another major emphasis of CTSA Program funding. A Master’s Degree in Clinical Investigation (MSCI) degree program supported by CTSA funding has graduated 140 students. Approximately 30 are current UT Health San Antonio faculty members.

A Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Translational Science degree program, which began in the fall of 2012, has graduated nine individuals who are attaining faculty status and obtaining grants. UT Health San Antonio and three UT System educational partners, including The University of Texas at San Antonio, The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Texas School of Public Health – San Antonio Regional Campus, offer this Ph.D. program.

“Team science is a very strong feature of our program,” Dr. Clark said. “We work hard to stimulate collaboration among researchers who have different areas of expertise. We promote this across all schools at UT Health San Antonio and among our regional partners in academic, clinical and research institutions.”

Making sure research is relevant to communities

Community engagement is essential for meaningful translation of research discoveries to human application and benefit. Several CTSA Program partners comprise the Community Engagement Team, which works with researchers, community members, local agencies and health providers to ensure community input on the relevance of research to South Texas.

CTSA Program hubs receive the bulk of the CTSA funding in what NIH calls a UL1 award.  Each hub also has an NIH KL2 award for training of future clinical and translational career research investigators, and some hubs have an optional NIH TL1 award for career development of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

Eligibility for additional NIH funding

By successfully competing for the CTSA Program funding in 2018, UT Health San Antonio is eligible to submit proposal for grants called Administrative Supplements. This one-year supplemental funding may be used to purchase research items, such as equipment and software platforms, or hire personnel, Dr. Clark said.

Multi-institutional team of collaborators

Regional partners with UT Health San Antonio in the CTSA Program in South Texas include:

  • San Antonio Metropolitan Health District
  • San Antonio Military Health System
  • South Texas Veterans Health Care System
  • Texas Biomedical Research Institute
  • University Health System
  • UT San Antonio
  • UT School of Public Health – San Antonio Regional Campus
  • UT Austin College of Pharmacy

CTSA Program hub leaders

Dr. Clark thanked the many faculty and staff who worked on the grant submission. The UL1 grant co-principal investigators are:

  • Kenneth M. Hargreaves, D.D.S., Ph.D., professor and chairman of endodontics in the School of Dentistry and professor in the departments of pharmacology, cellular and integrative physiology, and surgery;
  • Donald M. Dougherty, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry;
  • Paula K. Shireman, M.D., professor of surgery and of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics;
  • Robert A. Clark, M.D., assistant vice president for clinical research and professor of medicine and of cellular and integrative physiology.

The TL1 grant co-principal investigators are Linda M. McManus, Ph.D., professor of pathology and director of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, UT Health San Antonio, and Christopher R. Frei, Pharm.D., associate professor of pharmacy at UT Austin and director of the Pharmacotherapy Education and Research Center at UT Health San Antonio.

The KL2 grant principal investigator is Joel Tsevat, M.D., M.P.H., professor of medicine and director of the Center for Research to Advance Community Health at UT Health San Antonio.

Patricia Dahia, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine (hematology-oncology) at UT Health San Antonio, serves as the medical director of the Trial Innovation Network Hub Liaison Team. The network’s goal is to execute clinical trials better, faster and more cost-efficiently while serving as a national laboratory to study, understand and improve the process of conducting clinical trials.

About UT Health San Antonio®

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, now called UT Health San Antonio®, is one of the country’s leading health sciences universities. With missions of teaching, research, healing and community engagement, its schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced 35,850 alumni who are leading change, advancing their fields and renewing hope for patients and their families throughout South Texas and the world. To learn about the many ways “We make lives better®,” visit www.uthscsa.edu.

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