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April 11, 2012
KANSAS CITY, Mo. A broad research coalition organized by the University of Kansas Medical Center will be a driving force in the continued effort to make the Kansas City area an international center of life sciences research and industry, speakers said here Tuesday evening.
“I believe it really is going to do great things going forward,” Dan Getman, president of the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute, said at the organization’s annual dinner, held at the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center.
The 28-organization team, which includes community groups along with academic and medical institutions, goes by the name of Frontiers: The Heartland Institute for Clinical and Translational Research.
Funded through a roughly $20 million, five-year grant awarded by the National Institutes of Health in June, it is housed at KU’s new Clinical Research Center in Fairway, Kan.
Dr. David Livingston is among the proponents of the Frontiers network. Deputy director of Boston’s Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, Livingston was the keynote speaker at the annual dinner. He is a member of the institute’s scientific advisory committee.
The Frontiers network is “wonderful to behold,” Livingston said in an interview. “When you have medical institutions working together, who benefits are the patients.”
What KU Med and its partners are doing rivals similar efforts at Harvard, he said.
Translational research tests basic discoveries to see if they can treat human diseases. That work does not always produce the next blockbuster drug. Getman said that only about 20 percent of promising treatments make it to the next step of commercialization.
But Livingston said in his talk that translational research – a roughly $15 billion enterprise in the United States – is one of the most exciting areas of research today.
“There are new discoveries coming almost by the week,” he said.
The Frontier network’s goals are to speed laboratory discoveries into treatments for patients, engage communities in clinical research efforts and train a new generation of clinical and translational researchers.
There already is a major community springboard.
In September, when the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce announced its Big 5 ideas for moving the region forward, it included making the area a hub of translational research. The goal is to raise an additional $40 million to augment the National Institutes of Health grant.
Dr. Patrick James Sr., chairman of the life sciences institute, is leading that effort.
“We set a really big stretch goal,” James said in an interview after the dinner.
The Frontiers network has started four main initiatives since winning the grant 10 months ago, according to Lauren S. Aaronson, a principal investigator on the grant and a professor in the KU School of Nursing and Department of Health Policy and Management. The initiatives are:
• A two-year post-doctoral career development program that provides education and training in the areas of clinical and translational research. Six researchers are in the initial round: two from Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics and four from KU Med.
• A program that allows four medical students to take one year out from their regular curriculum to get a master’s degree in clinical research. This year’s recipients are from Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences and KU Med.
• A pilot study program that each year provides $30,000 apiece to 10 researchers – at least half of whom are junior faculty members – to do preliminary work that could ultimately lead to larger grants from outside organizations. Those first-round awards went to researchers at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and KU Med.
• Establishment of a committee that is studying ways to reduce regulatory burdens that could hinder collaboration, such as creating one review board to approve projects involving human subjects as opposed to having to gain approval from boards at each participating institution.
The first months have been a whirlwind, Aaronson said.
But it has been “incredibly rewarding,” she said, to witness the “increasing evidence of collaboration and colleagueship among our institutions.”
The goal is to grow and expand the program during the next four years, she said.
And as for the region, James concluded the dinner by saying, “We are on a great path. We have the vision in sight.”
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