The CTSA Award: In FY08 Vanderbilt, in partnership with Meharry, was awarded a CTSA (Clinical and Translational Science Award) from the National Center Research Resources (NCRR) at the NIH. The PI on the overall project is Gordon Bernard, M.D. from Vanderbilt, who is Associate VP for Research. His colleague on this grant, representing Meharry, is Russell Poland, PhD, Vice-President of Research. The purpose of the grant is to promote those educational and research activities that will enhance the “translation” of basic research findings into the clinic, and ultimately into the community in terms of prevention and best practice management of disease. This has frequently been referred to at Vanderbilt and Meharry as a quest for “bench to bedside to community” projects, and the CTSA promotes just that. There are multiple components to the grant including education, the development of optimal therapeutics, informatics, biostatistics, industry relations, design and evaluation methods, research ethics, community engagement and novel clinical and translational methodologies. As one example, investigators from both institutions have ready access to StarBRITE and REDCap, two of the CTSA’s resources.

StarBRITE is a one-stop shopping site for research services such as access to detailed instructions, tools and templates to assist investigators with planning, grant writing, IRB approval and conduct of clinical research studies. It is accessible by investigators at both Meharry and Vanderbilt at no cost through the CTSA. A popular feature is the availability of “Studios”. Vouchers ($2,000+) are available (through a reviewed application process) which can be applied toward the costs of assays carried out by research cores, or assistance to conduct one or more of the 6 Studio topics: Hypothesis Generation, Design, Implementation, Analysis & Interpretation, Translation, and Manuscripts. Each Studio requires a small fee of $150 which is in turn can be covered by a voucher.

REDCap is a secure, web-based application to store and support research case report form data. Meharry-Vanderbilt partners are already using REDCap for their joint U54 asthma disparities project. The asthma database has 186 records of the completed subjects with each record containing 1,346 variables. In addition, 1,869 records of subjects who were screened for study entry with a total of 58 variables are being entered. REDCap provides an intuitive interface for data entry with data validation. REDCap also audits trails for tracking data manipulation, and seamlessly exports data downloads to common statistical packages (SPSS, SAS, Stata, R). After launching the database, User Rights are set-up to give access to specific individuals as requested. The tracking system logs activities that vary from data entry, modifications, to downloading. It features the following: Data Export Tool; Data Comparison Tool; Data Logging; File Repository; Data Dictionary; and Report Builder.

One of the important components of this comprehensive grant is the Community Engagement and Research Core (CERC).  The role of the committee is to foster partnerships between clinical-translational investigators, research programs, and community leaders. These community leaders include members of other academic institutions, healthcare entities (corporate, public- and community-based), healthcare advocates (grassroots, faith-based, and other non-profits), and even policy makers in order to promote a dialogue and an action plan to address health priorities in the community. On that list of priorities is reducing and eliminating health disparities in vulnerable populations.