Researching new cures and therapies at the University of Kansas Medical Center

02/18/2014 7:28 PM

02/18/2014 7:28 PM

Many of us at the University of Kansas Medical Center watched with interest last fall as Jackson County voters considered whether to approve a sales tax to fund translational research. This is, after all, a field in which we have much experience.

In 2008, Johnson County voters approved the Johnson County Education and Research tax, which partially funds the KU Clinical Research Center in Fairway, a building donated by the Hall Family Foundation. Thanks to this public-private partnership, patients now come from across the world to participate in leading-edge clinical trials and first-in-human trials of promising cancer drugs.

We are experts in this life-saving research, and our communities enjoy its associated economic benefits. We also know how difficult it is to articulate what “translational research” means and how it benefits society. Thanks to the Jackson County ballot question, many more people now know that translational research is research that helps transform basic science discoveries into new treatments and cures. Because KU scientists are focused on solving the mysteries of human disease, most of our research could be considered translational.

Last month, we announced that researchers here will use $10 million from the new Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to conduct three projects that will help deliver new cures and therapies faster.

This is one of several federally funded research awards announced since June 2011, when KU Medical Center received a $20 million Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health. We named our effort with this five-year grant Frontiers: The Heartland Institute for Clinical and Translational Research.

Through Frontiers, we are working with more than two dozen universities, community organizations and hospitals — including Saint Luke’s Health System, Children’s Mercy and the University of Missouri-Kansas City — to help speed lab discoveries to patients.

That Frontiers funding has created a trove of resources for the region’s researchers. Since 2011, Frontiers has funneled federal funding to researchers not just at KU but also at Saint Luke’s Health System, Children’s Mercy, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences.

They are studying post-traumatic stress disorder, how to help multiple sclerosis patients, and ways for doctors to track the progression of, and test new treatments for, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

Bruce Wells, a pet store owner from New Zealand, came all the way to Fairway to help us learn more about Pompe disease, a rare genetic condition that slowly attacks muscles. Scientists at KU and Children’s Mercy are working on innovative treatments for children who are fighting deadly diseases. And researchers at KU’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center are seeking healthy patients 65 and older to participate in a new trial, funded by a $3 million NIH grant, to study the role of exercise in maintaining a healthy brain.

Frontiers has recently launched

PioneersResearch.org

where anyone can help advance medical knowledge by volunteering to participate in clinical research.

Translational research deserves to be a priority for growth in our region. It benefits our population and our economy. As the metro area considers the future of biomedical research, KU will continue to work across all borders in its efforts to improve human health.

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