UT Health San Antonio, 7 others join NIH funding of $46 million

The University of Texas San Antonio Health Science Center joins seven institutions with $46 million in federal funding for translational research (scientific discoveries that lead to drugs and treatments).

Over the next seven years, UT Health San Antonio will use funding from the National Institutes of Health to hire and train translational scientists, share electronic medical records, improve protocols for clinical trials, improve Alzheimer’s disease and We plan to establish a regional clinical trial network to study heart disease. , Cancer and Diabetes, said Dr. William Henrich, president of the organization.

“San Antonio and the surrounding South Texas area are a true treasure trove of clinical research and are important to the future of clinical research in this country,” said Henrich, a nephrologist.

Related: UT Health San Antonio Plans $100 Million Expansion To Address South Texas Problem Alzheimer’s

This funding will help San Antonio’s largest bioscience company earn recognition as a leading researcher and raise millions of dollars in federal funding to build foundational research to develop drugs and medical treatments It was done while These institutions are experiencing significant growth, with some building large medical centers and strengthening ties with the private sector to generate new revenue streams.

UT Health San Antonio is located in the nation’s largest Hispanic city, and Henrich is focused on reducing inequality in the region. He stressed the importance of conducting more clinical trials in the state, as the state’s Hispanic population is slightly larger than its white population. Statewide, both demographics make up about 40 percent of Texas’s 29.5 million residents, according to a U.S. Census report.

“San Antonio is an ideal place to study because this demographic is what our country will look like in the years and decades to come,” Henrich said. . “We are in the perfect place to understand the root and underlying causes of diseases that will affect large parts of the country in the coming years.”

The medical system will begin construction on the Brain Health Center, a $100 million, 100,000-square-foot facility this year that will open on its Northwest Side campus in 2025. Local medical experts have pushed the expansion as a direct response to the rising number of cases. Studies have reported cases of Alzheimer’s disease in the region and that Latinos are disproportionately affected.

About 400,000 people in Texas have Alzheimer’s disease, according to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services. Nationally, the state ranks fourth in cases and second in Alzheimer’s disease-related deaths. Studies have found that Latinos are more severely affected, especially in southern Texas. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, in the Rio Grande Valley region, which spans four counties and has a large Latinx population, the odds of being diagnosed with dementia for people aged 65 and older are higher than those in other parts of the United States for that age group. It is said to be about twice as high. service.

Clinical trials are expensive, can take years to complete, and often fail. Drugs look promising when tested in labs and on animals, but only prove to be ineffective or toxic to humans. This is a difficult process with procedural obstacles.

Also read: UT Health Wins $10M to Reduce Teenage Pregnancy in South Texas

Many medical professionals believe that the process of translational research can help revitalize drug development. But part of the backstory, critics say, is that the federal agency, rather than streamlining discovery, seeks to avoid what it claims has contributed to the rapid commercialization of medicine. He argues that the focus should be on funding research.

With new NIH funding, UT Health San Antonio and others plan to use artificial intelligence and machine learning-powered tools to gather datasets about the local population.

“There’s an enormous amount of data out there,” says Dr. Robert A. Clark, professor of medicine and director of the Institute for Integrated Medicine and Science, which manages federally funded programs at UT Health San Antonio. . “These data can be used to better understand health-related research and health inequalities.”

With large companies collecting user data, the idea of ​​collecting local demographic data raises questions about whether UT Health San Antonio or others will sell that information.

“It will help us develop better ways to open up new revenue streams,” Clark said. “In that sense, yes, but I don’t think that’s our main motivation.”

Meanwhile, one of the designated recipients of the funding, the Texas Biomedical Institute, is pursuing an expansion and renovation project estimated at more than $300 million and seeking to improve its reputation with the government and pharmaceutical companies. .

The San Antonio nonprofit plans to grow its workforce from 430 to 700 over the next decade and has signed research and development agreements with companies such as Pfeiffer and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals to develop vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. We would like to form a profitable partnership with you.

Texas Biomed did not respond to emailed questions about the award.

In addition to Texas BioMed, organizations working with UT Health San Antonio to share funding include: University of Texas Austin Dell School of Medicine and Pharmacy, University of Texas San Antonio, San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, San Antonio Antonio army. The health system, South Texas Veterans Health System, and University Health, according to the news release.

UT Health San Antonio is one of 60 institutions nationwide to receive funding from the NIH’s Clinical and Translational Science Award Program. The award is a competitive award, with recipients drawn from prestigious Ivy League institutions and West Coast medical facilities.

Also read: UT Health San Antonio supports pioneering use of AI-powered diabetes management

According to the NIH website, NIH programs are “innovative solutions that improve the efficiency, quality, and impact of the process of transforming observations in laboratories, clinics, and communities into interventions that improve individual and public health. It is said that the purpose is to develop .

The NIH created the program more than a decade ago with the goal of helping new discoveries “impact public health patients through the pipeline,” Clark said.

“As you can imagine, there are many obstacles to progress,” he said. “Sometimes it’s paperwork. Sometimes it’s a lack of resources. It can also be due to embedded health problems and health inequalities that are very difficult.”

Clark said this is the fourth time UT Health San Antonio and its partners have worked together to raise such funding, with $33 million in 2008, $26 million in 2013, and $26 million in 2018. It was about $26 million a year. The funds were distributed over his five years compared to his current seven years.

The new plan calls for UT Health and others to work with local residents to plan future health programs that meet local medical needs. The Community Engagement function includes a so-called Translational Advisory Board. This is a county-level stakeholder group that discusses unmet medical needs in the area.

These institutions also aim to employ and train translational researchers who apply approaches to study how basic and applied research can impact the real world. This task includes knowing how information is shared, accepted and applied.

“Workforce development is just such an important part of this effort, and it has been from the beginning,” Clark said.

Afaf Saliba, a fifth-year PhD student, is a graduate of UT Health San Antonio’s Translational Science Training Program, a federally funded program.

Also read: UT Health San Antonio Wins $4 Million to Help Latinos with Cancer and Improve Cancer Care

She took a course in translational science at the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine and applied her skills to the study and discovery of metabolic diseases. She developed a mouse model to identify therapeutic targets for advanced kidney disease at the Center for Precision Medicine.

“Translational science is a multi-approach process that helps everyone learn how science can benefit communities. It has been around for a long time, but is now normalized. It’s being done,” she said. “They teach us how to be better researchers, how to be more ethical, how to learn, how to collaborate, how to be leaders.”

She continued, “I really can’t imagine how my identity as a researcher would have been shaped without this programme.”

Saliba, a wife and mother of three, said she was “on the verge of finishing” a paper on the effects of kidney disease on brain health.

“Many chronic kidney disease patients not only suffer from kidney disease, but they also suffer from cognitive decline and tend to eventually develop dementia,” she says. “I’m trying to find ways to improve their quality of life and preserve their brains.”

Her research has come to be recognized. She received the Translational Science Award from the Association for Clinical Translational Sciences as an Outstanding Predoctoral Trainee in 2022.

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