Patient-oriented research gets boost from first cycle of grants

The recently established Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences (ICTS) has awarded its first set of grants to ICTS investigators. Fifteen projects from a wide range of fields received a total of more than $800,000 from a combination of Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) grant and institutional funds.

The ICTS was established in 2007 under a five-year, $50 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. Kenneth S. Polonsky, M.D., the Adolphus Busch Professor and head of the Milliken Department of Medicine, directs the institute.

The goal of the ICTS is to provide infrastructure, resources and services to facilitate outstanding clinical and translational research. The University’s BioMed 21 strategic initiative in multidisciplinary collaborative research served as a foundation for the formation of the ICTS.

The 15 new grants were part of the ICTS Pilot and Novel Methodologies Program, which encourages innovative and collaborative research and planning projects. More information about the institute and the pilot awards can be found at

Principal investigators and collaborators represent a variety of departments in the schools of medicine, of engineering and of business.

Some of the projects funded will evaluate new treatments for disorders such as cancer, hearing loss, peripheral artery disease or childhood obesity. Others are devoted to finding more accurate ways to diagnose diseases such as multiple sclerosis or bladder inflammation. Several projects set the stage for better patient care, for example, by tracking and analyzing what factors contribute to osteoporosis or to complications after spine surgery, or by testing a wireless network that monitors and transmits patients’ vital signs to a central system.

An ICTS committee that included 65 reviewers from WUSTL and partner institutions reviewed more than 100 applications.

Committee chair Robert W. Thompson, M.D., professor of surgery, of radiology and of cell biology and physiology, said the reviewers were looking for scientifically strong proposals that broke new ground by giving a new or junior-level researcher his or her first research grant or by enabling established researchers to go in a new direction or build new research connections.

“We also looked for projects that involved two or more investigators from different fields working together in a multidisciplinary group with an emphasis on clinically-based research with the greatest potential to transform patient care,” Thompson said.

Daniel C. Link, M.D., associate professor of medicine in the Division of Oncology and of pathology and immunology, is principal investigator of one of the grants awarded in this round of competition. With Eric Choi, M.D., assistant professor of surgery and of radiology, Link will test whether patients with severe peripheral artery disease — a disease caused by blockage of blood vessels, especially in the legs — will benefit from receiving a drug that stimulates blood vessel growth.

“We’re very excited about the potential of this research to help a group of patients who really have no other good treatment options,” Link said. “This collaboration between vascular surgery and basic bone marrow research has led to a project that can have immediate benefit to patients.”

The ICTS expects to put out an annual call for proposals under the Pilot and Novel Methodologies Program. Current awards range from $25,000 to $80,000 per year for a period of one to two years.

The ICTS is a collaboration among several regional institutions including WUSTL, BJC HealthCare, Saint Louis University, the University of Missouri-St. Louis College of Nursing, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Nursing, St. Louis College of Pharmacy and others.