New UTHSC Tennessee Clinical and Translational Science Institute Established to Improve Human Health for Southerners

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Michelle Martin, PhD, and Karen C. Johnson, MD, will co-lead the new Tennessee Clinical and Translational Science Institute (TN-CTSI) which is designed to span the entire state to address the most-pressing health needs throughout Tennessee. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Research)

Researchers at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center have formed the Tennessee Clinical and Translational Science Institute (TN-CTSI) to address health inequities in the Southern United States.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the American South represented the largest population growth by region in 2017. Comprised of 17 states stretching from Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas on the west, to the Atlantic Ocean on the east, and northward to Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and West Virginia, the South has a large minority population with heightened levels of poverty and health disparities.

“TN-CTSI will catalyze the development of methods and technologies that lead to more efficient translation of medical discoveries into interventions that improve human health across the translational research spectrum, from basic science to population science,” said Karen C. Johnson, MD, MPH, co-leader of TN-CTSI and Endowed Professor of Women’s Health in the UTHSC Department of Preventive Medicine. “Our mission is to improve the health of Tennesseans and underserved populations in the South by providing education and training, fostering interdisciplinary teams, improving quality and efficiency, and engaging community stakeholders and partners in meaningful collaboration.”

Michelle Martin, PhD, director of the Center for Innovation in Health Equity Research: A Community Cancer Alliance for Transformative Change at UTHSC and professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine, will serve as the other leader of TN-CTSI.

“TN-CTSI will have participation from all six colleges, as well as participation from all campuses at UTHSC,” Dr. Martin said. “The institute will also collaborate with other UT units, such as the UT Institute of Agriculture, especially the extension service, and the UT Advanced Computing Facility in Knoxville. We are forming an integrated institute that spans the entire state to address the most-pressing health needs in our area.”

Research Institutes at UTHSC are comprised of faculty from multiple colleges and multiple campuses, and are often catalysts for interdisciplinary team science that can lead to large Center or Program Project grant applications, collaborations, and awards.

TN-CTSI, in collaboration with the University of Mississippi Medical Center Clinical Research Institute and the Tulane University Translational Science Institute, have together formed the Delta Clinical and Translational Science Consortium (DCTSC). The collaborative consortium is designed to support high-quality interdisciplinary team-based clinical and translational research locally, regionally, and nationally, by fostering innovation in research methods, training, and career development. What makes this Delta Consortium unique is its focus on underserved populations, addressing health disparities by uncovering interrelationships of disease phenotypes with genomics, health-related behaviors, environmental exposures, and social factors that may affect health across the lifespan.

“As a university centered on bringing the benefits of the health sciences to the citizens of Tennessee and the region, UTHSC is proud to be working with Tulane University and the University of Mississippi Medical Center,” said UTHSC Chancellor Steve J. Schwab, MD. “Together, through the Delta Consortium, our researchers are fostering an innovative environment focused on education, workforce development, and research methods to combat the major health disparities people in the Mississippi Delta region face every day.”

The long-term goal of the Delta Consortium is to obtain a Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). The CTSA Program supports a national network of medical research institutes, called hubs, which work in collaboration to catalyze innovation in training, research tools, and best practices for individuals locally and regionally in clinical and translational science. UTHSC and Tulane University are serving as hub institutions, while the University of Mississippi Medical Center is functioning as a collaborating institution. Each university-created research institute will have cores designed to carry out the work of the Delta Consortium.

“We will build on decades of accomplishments in clinical and translational research at our respective institutions, along with robust workforce training programs, career development, and collaborative community engagement,” said UTHSC Vice Chancellor for Research Steven R. Goodman, PhD. “The vision of the Delta Consortium is to be a model environment that covers three states (Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana) to facilitate research across the translational spectrum from basic science to population science that is responsive to community priorities, conducted by interdisciplinary teams, and that results in acceleration of discoveries into practice leading to improvement of human health.”