The University of Miami CTSI proudly announces its third Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) grant, providing nearly $28 million over seven years in support of the Institute’s mission to foster clinical and translational science with a direct impact on South Florida’s communities.
“NIH funding allows the Institute to continue its important work promoting equity and reducing health disparities,” said Henri R. Ford, M.D., M.H.A., dean and chief academic officer of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. “With CTSI’s support and resources, interdisciplinary teams are advancing research that will transform care in South Florida and beyond for years to come.”
One of more than 60 funded CTSAs around the country, the Miami CTSI Hub includes UM’s 12 schools and colleges as well as the Miller School of Medicine and the University of Miami Health System (UHealth). Additional collaborators include the Miami Dade County’s public health system Jackson Health System, the Miami Veterans Affairs Health System, Health Choice Network, minority-serving institutions, community-based organizations, and community clinics and providers.
“This award lands us in a network of elite institutions across the country, and being a part of this network, is very much aligned with the strategic goals of our Miller School of Medicine to become a Top 25 medical school,” said Erin Kobetz, Ph.D., M.P.H., vice provost for research and scholarship at the University of Miami and Miami CTSI co-director and MPI.
“Our overriding goal is to improve the health of our community and to promote health equity,” said Miami CTSI co-director and multiple principal investigator (MPI) Olveen Carrasquillo, M.D., M.P.H. “The continuation of NIH funding will give us the tools to identify the gaps preventing us from advancing research in these areas as well as the resources to address those gaps.”
The CTSI’s commitment to equity in research makes it and its collaborators highly sought after for participation in multi-site trials. Among its many distinguishing factors, the Miami CTSI’s Hub achieves greater than 50 percent minority enrollment in nearly all studies.
CTSI Achievements Through the Years
The Miami CTSI is committed to utilizing established strengths in diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA), and stakeholder engagement to catalyze the development, demonstration, and dissemination of novel, end-to-end clinical translational science solutions.
The Miami CTSI has focused over the last five years on creating research awareness, making research more accessible to potential research participants, and increasing representativeness and equity in research.
Its strategic investments have led to multiple successful initiatives with a direct benefit to researchers and community members, including improving access to data for the purposes of research and expanding researchers’ capacity to participate in data networks to solve national health problems.
In 2019, the Miami CTSI implemented the Consent to Contact for research initiative, a resource for both the research community at UM and UHealth patients by enabling patients to learn about clinical studies that may be appropriate for them. More than 120,000 patients have opted in to the registry program, and it has become an important participant recruitment tool for research studies, allowing investigators to tap into a diverse population.
A priority has been to bring research awareness and opportunities to South Florida communities. Recently, Consent to Contact program was integrated into the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Game Changer mobile outreach program led by Dr. Kobetz.
Launched in 2020, UMiamiHealthResearch.org is a study database and recruitment tool that features more than 230 health research studies actively enrolling at the University of Miami and more than 1,200 registered volunteers. The website, designed for study volunteers, allows them to customize the studies they want to be contacted about and communicate with study teams.
Collaboration is key to the success of translational research, and the Miami CTSI has built a network of community collaborators who are trusted colleagues and share a mutually beneficial relationship resulting in more robust participation in research that directly benefits communities.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Miami CTSI played a key role in working with stakeholders in educating the community, and addressing historical barriers to equity and trust. One example is the ongoing Florida Community Engagement Alliance Against COVID-19 Disparities (FL-CEAL), led by Dr. Carrasquillo, which has received nearly $4 million in NIH funding. The project brings together seven institutions across Florida, as well as 36 additional community-based organizations, made possible through leveraging existing CTSI collaborations and infrastructure.
The Miami CTSI provides a wealth of resources to translational scientists that measurably improves research quality, efficiency, effectiveness, and ultimately, impact. It continues to develop innovative training programs to support a team science oriented, clinical translational workforce of investigators, clinical research professionals, trainees and community stakeholders through workshops, seminars, research mentoring, and its Masters in Clinical and Translational Investigation (MSCTI) program.
“Securing an award of this nature is a tremendous undertaking that requires dedication and an all-hands approach from our CTSI team, led by our executive directors Daru Ransford and Sheela Dominguez,” said MPIs Drs. Carrasquillo and Kobetz. “We are grateful for the ongoing support of UM leadership and the wonderful partnerships and collaborations that have made this achievement possible.”
The grant, among the largest National Institutes of Health funded grants at the University of Miami, marks the Miami CTSI’s third award over a period of 11 years.
“The future of the CTSI involves more cross-institutional participation than ever before,” says Dr. Kobetz. “It provides an opportunity to draw on the interdisciplinary expertise of top scientists and scholars at the University who are collectively committed to advancing clinical translational science.”
For the upcoming grant cycle, Dr. Kobetz is excited about proposed workforce development initiatives designed to prepare the next generation of translational scientists. “There are very few federally funded grants that are awarded for seven years, and that duration provides us a nice runway to achieve impact,” she says.
“We hope by the end of seven years that our Hub’s impact will transform research, improve health locally and regionally, and make meaningful progress towards health equity and advancing clinical translational science,” said Dr. Carrasquillo.
“This NIH award will accelerate the translation of scientific discoveries of our faculty, which will ultimately improve the health of our South Florida community and nationally,” said Guillermo “Willy” Prado, Ph.D., interim executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. “The funding will also pave the way for eliminating health disparities and achieving health equity.”
CTSI staff contributed to this story.