New federally funded health initiative to speed benefits of science to North Carolinians

May 29, 2008 — The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received a $61 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant that will help speed up how scientific discoveries directly benefit patients in communities across North Carolina.

New federally funded health initiative to speed benefits of science to North Carolinians click to enlarge Dr. Paul B. Watkins

UNC is among 14 academic health centers in 11 states to join the ranks of the NIH’s Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) consortium. By creating a network of medical research institutions across the nation, the consortium aims to reduce the time it takes for laboratory discoveries to become treatments for patients, engage communities in clinical research efforts, and help train the next generation of clinical and translational researchers. The consortium is led by the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), a part of the NIH.

The five-year grant will partially fund efforts by the University’s new North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences (TraCS) Institute to engage communities across North Carolina in a continuous cycle of knowledge, discovery and dissemination of new ideas for delivering health care.

“This institute will transform the way research is performed in our state,” said Dr. William L. Roper, dean of the School of Medicine, vice chancellor for medical affairs and chief executive officer of UNC Health Care. “The initiative will bridge science and clinical practice and speed up the movement of innovations from the laboratory bench to the bedside and the community.”

This initiative is campuswide, drawing on the diverse expertise of doctors and clinicians, biomedical researchers, and a broad spectrum of experts from public health, the social sciences, information technology and other fields.

An example of a project the grant will make possible is the establishment and operation of community research units, one of which is already successfully operating in Greensboro, N.C. Local physicians will be able to refer patients to these units, giving the patients access to new treatments and therapeutic programs, while also allowing researchers opportunities to better evaluate their effectiveness.

Other proposed projects include:

  • Developing a pediatric research network with community-based research units initially in Chapel Hill, Greensboro, Wilmington and Charlotte.
  • Establishing a statewide registry of children with chronic disease.
  • Continuing a collaborative project with North Carolina Central University that involves writing and performing plays as innovative vehicles to educate people about diseases. This pilot project will also include dialogue that explains the nature and importance of clinical trials.

“This is a true partnership in which communities across the state are encouraged and empowered to help advance medical science and improve the health care for all Carolinians,” said Dr. Paul B. Watkins, the grant’s principal investigator. Watkins is also Verne S. Caviness Distinguished Professor of Medicine in UNC’s School of Medicine and director of the Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute.

Along with NCCU, other UNC system campuses are playing roles: North Carolina A&T State, North Carolina State and East Carolina universities, as well as UNC Charlotte. Other organizations such as RTI International and the North Carolina Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) program will also be involved.

“We have established partnerships with these institutions to enhance outreach to underserved populations, local community and advocacy organizations and health-care providers,” said Tony Waldrop, Ph.D., professor of cell and molecular physiology and vice chancellor for research and economic development. “Our new grant will draw on the University’s established tradition of community engagement and invigorate a culture of community-based discovery and outreach.”

CTSA Web site:

Video: To see a video recording of this morning’s news conference announcing UNC’s Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the NIH, go to: . The video should be available by 1 p.m.

School of Medicine contact: Les Lang, (919) 966-9366,
News Services contact: Patric Lane, (919) 962-8596,