At a national conference three years ago, National Institutes of Health Director Elias A. Zerhouni deplored the nation’s efforts in translational science, the process of using basic scientific research to improve patient care. Later that year, Zerhouni announced a major NIH-led initiative to address the problems in translational science, a push that paid off for Harvard this week when the University landed a major grant to fund its efforts in the area, according to a Harvard Medical School spokesman.
Medical School professor Lee M. Nadler will lead the Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC) in a University-wide initiative designed to use research to address health problems.
“This grant will enable people who naturally would not come together to solve problems that affect humans who have illnesses,” said Nadler, who was appointed dean for clinical and translational research last year.
The initiative will affect not just the institutions at the Longwood Medical Area, but may also lead to the creation of courses for undergraduates as well as new research programs at Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School.
At a meeting for the Medical School’s students and staff , Dean Jeffrey S. Flier described the grant application, which was submitted in November, as a “valiant effort from the entire community.”
According to Flier’s presentation, Harvard requested $23 million from the NIH for the CTSC, which it received in full, in addition to the $15 million that the University will kick in from its own funds over the next five years.
“In these five years, we want to arm the people who want to do clinical and translational research with the tools, support, and nurturing they need to address diseases,” said Steven D. Freedman, the associate dean for clinical and translational research.
Prior to the CTSC grant, the University had been awarded four General Clinical Research Center (GCRC) grants from the NIH to conduct a wide range of clinical studies at academic health care centers, including Mass. General and Brigham and Women’s Hospitals, both of which are Medical School affiliates.
“This was a total transformation of integration and collaboration,” Nadler said. “We are completely transforming the GCRC into what we are now calling the Human Research Laboratory.”
Nadler said that the medical community at Harvard is very decentralized, as the affiliated hospitals operate independently and sometimes even compete with one another.
“To bring them together was a very difficult thing,” Nadler said. “Never in the history of Harvard has there been a grant that’s gone across all these entities.”
Nadler attributed the collaboration to two forces: an external force in the NIH and Zerhouni, and an internal one in University President Drew G. Faust and Flier, who both felt that this was “the right time for such a transformation.”
In the next five years, Nadler foresees two primary roles for the CTSC: establishing an infrastructure to connect clinical and translational researchers across the University and educating the broader research community.
Freedman said that CTSC will also be building CONNECTS, a sophisticated Web-based system that will provide access to information needed to conduct research projects.
“It will be like a matchmaker dating service to hook you up with all the different people to make it happen,” Freedman said.
Although the exact location of the central administrative space for the CTSC has not been decided yet, Nadler said that it will not be in Allston, where planning for science complexes is underway.
“Conquering human illness now becomes the challenge for Harvard,” Nadler said. “Not for Dana Farber where I live, but for Harvard.”
Nadler added with a chuckle that, upon learning of the news last week, Faust reportedly bought a bottle of champagne and sent it in a cab to Longwood for Flier.
—Staff writer June Q. Wu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.