August 06. 2010 2:00AM - Last modified: March 14. 2012 4:06PM

NIH grant supports collaborative medical research in region

Biz News

By Alysha Schertz

The Medical College of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa recently received a $20 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for a Milwaukee-wide research partnership with seven other organizations. The grant will be used to advance biomedical research, patient care and education throughout the region.

In the collaboration, the Medical College of Wisconsin is teaming up with Marquette University, the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Blood Center of Wisconsin, Children's Hospital and Health System, Froedtert Hospital, and the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center for collaboration on the research.

"Biomedical research has expanded so much in our region in the past several decades," said Dr. Reza Shaker, principal investigator for the grant and Medical College senior associate dean for clinical and translational research. "If you look at the biomedical research enterprises in southeastern Wisconsin, you will see that we have very good institutions, but none of them are complete on their own and so forming an interdisciplinary research team to address the current clinical research problems was absolutely crucial to development."

The Medical College will coordinate the grant through its newly created academic entity, the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI). Shaker will serve as director of the organization.

"These institutions were brought together because they are complimentary to each other within the initiative," Shaker said.

The groups feature educational institutions, clinical atmospheres and different disciplines that can all be leveraged to conduct necessary research, Shaker said.

"What we are hoping to do is to create a very effective research engine in southeastern Wisconsin that takes advantage of collective resources and engages the community in the research," Shaker said. "When you look at it from a big picture standpoint, all of these organizations are academic organizations and advocacy groups that can join forces to tackle health issues facing our region through valuable research."

According to Shaker, CTSI has already helped form 17 different research teams that are working on 17 different clinical questions.

"Experts from at least two academic institutions are working together on those teams," he said. "The other entities are there to offer research support, statistical support, and ethical consultation and provide an atmosphere to study patients and healthy volunteers."

Shaker hopes to attract more collaborators in the future and expand the effort to make biomedical research more effective and efficient.

"The CTSI grant will facilitate the continued development of an infrastructure that fosters collaborative research among the institutions of higher education and health care organizations in the Milwaukee area," said Robert Wild, president of Marquette University. "Marquette is pleased to be part of the collaboration that includes sharing equipment and laboratories, joint faculty appointments and the support and training of young clinical investigators in order to advance patient care within our community and beyond."

As part of the initiative, research institutes will have access to each member's research resources and may seek adjunct faculty appointments at the partnering colleges or universities. Five translational research units have also been established as part of the grant and will provide space and equipment for outpatient research studies, Shaker said.

"The purpose behind CTSI is to provide a borderless complimentary environment for biomedical researchers to be able to address real life clinical issues," Shaker said. "The research units will be housed inside Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, Zablocki VA Medical Center and two units within Froedtert Hospital."

A mobile research equipped van has also been established to go off site for research projects, Shaker said.

"The Clinical and Translational Science Institute will give us more opportunities to partner with (these organizations) to create meaningful treatment in the areas of post traumatic stress disorder and stroke recovery," said Robert Beller, director of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center.

Beller said he is also excited for the future collaboration opportunities that may spur from the CTSI research initiative.

"Every dollar and every minute we spend on research and treatment will lead to a more fulfilling life for our veterans, and for that, I am sincerely grateful," he said.

The Medical College and Marquette have established Ph.D programs in clinical and translational health sciences and the other educational institutions have established overlapping coursework and education tracks that will cross over into those Ph.D programs.

"Milwaukee is fortunate to have many top-notch academic, health care and engineering professionals and resources in the area. It is logical and practical for us to work together on research projects to improve patient care," said Hermann Viets, MSOE president. "Each institution brings a unique set of knowledge and skills to the Clinical Translational Science Institute, making it a very powerful collaboration."