National Institutes of Health peer evaluators rate the SC Clinical and Translational Science Institute a perfect 10.
(Originally posted at SC CTSI.)
By Wayne Lewis
The SC Clinical and Translational Science Institute has received a rare perfect score of 10 on a scale of 10-90 from National Institutes of Health peer evaluators. A partnership between USC, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, SC CTSI provides funding, expertise, training and facilities to translate science into solutions for better health in the diverse communities within Los Angeles.
The institute has been continually funded with a federal Clinical and Translational Science Award since 2008. The high rating indicates the likelihood that SC CTSI will find success with its five-year, $50 million application to renew funding through the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences when awards are distributed in 2022.
“The perfect 10 is a reflection of both our accomplishments and what we propose to do in the future,” said Thomas Buchanan, MD, vice dean for research director of SC CTSI and vice dean of research at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “It’s great to have this acknowledgment of how impactful our research has been.”
As might be expected from an effort that unites a major university and a renowned children’s hospital serving the diverse Los Angeles community, SC CTSI’s endeavor is a multifaceted, cross-disciplinary one.
“This institute leverages our unique strengths and brings together extraordinary talent from throughout our university with a unifying mission — to translate science to improve health,” said Michele Kipke, PhD, co-director of SC CTSI and vice chair of research in the department of pediatrics at CHLA. “Our leadership team represents 11 different USC schools, and we have provided support and resources to over 1,200 USC researchers on both USC campuses and at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.”
SC CTSI’s reach and impact are broader still, touching the lives of thousands upon thousands each year.
From scientific findings to real-world impact with clinical research
As a hub for clinical trials that evaluate new therapies, diagnostics and prevention strategies, SC CTSI supports clinical studies that involve more than 3,000 participants each year.
The institute’s approach helps address a longtime disparity, in which white men have traditionally been overrepresented in such trials. More than half of the participants in SC CTSI–supported studies are female, and half come from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, teams supported by the institute enrolled nearly 300 people in multicenter treatment or vaccine trials, with 85% of those participants being underrepresented minorities.
“Clinical trials are essential to medical progress because they show us what works and what doesn’t,” said Buchanan, who is also a professor of medicine and chief of endocrinology at the Keck School. “We need diversity in trials so that the results will be applicable to the broad spectrum of people from communities of color.”
One innovative way that SC CTSI encourages participation in clinical research is through Trial Promoter, a social media recruitment tool that enables the institute to test and refine messaging for maximum impact.
At the same time, SC CTSI works to get the message out through the entertainment industry, in partnership with Hollywood, Health & Society, an initiative of the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center that offers TV writers consultation on health-related topics and encourages those writers to include important themes in their scripts. Since 2016, this endeavor has resulted in 17 storylines about clinical trials on 10 shows, including “Black-ish” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”
SC CTSI also makes available crucial data that can enhance trials or even help determine their design. For example, a collection of data on social and environmental determinants of health — the “nurture” side of “nature vs. nurture” — plumbs numerous databases for information about 74 variables, including air and water quality, food availability and health disparities, and maps them to L.A. neighborhoods in partnership with USC’s Spatial Sciences Institute. Investigators can then deploy the data to help tailor their research questions or analyses.
“We often design studies with traditional vital signs in mind, whether it’s a specific body weight or range of blood pressure,” Buchanan said. “In SC CTSI, we want to use what we call ‘community vital signs’ in the same way, to help develop precision medicine approaches.”
With an eye to the future, SC CTSI also offers three-year Mentored Career Development Awards for early-career clinician-scientists. The program focuses on training in clinical and translational research, including preparation for the regulatory issues involved with moving from discovery to health solution. Already, 48 researchers who are either currently participating or have completed the program have published more than 1,000 peer-reviewed studies and attracted $73 million in grant funding.
Bringing health solutions into the community
Two complementary aspects of SC CTSI’s activities bring potential health solutions to the people of L.A. where they live and seek care. Community engagement initiatives promote clinical research and roll out educational programs and other interventions in local neighborhoods, with help from 160 partner organizations citywide. Meanwhile, a unique program in healthcare delivery science offers promising new approaches to patients at L.A. County + USC Medical Center.
Much of the SC CTSI’s work is done in partnership with local community leaders, organizations, and healthcare providers.
“An important starting point is to listen to and learn from our local communities and to understand what the community perceives to be its greatest health needs and concerns,” said Kipke, a professor of pediatrics at the Keck School. “This helps to inform and prioritize our community and public health initiatives,”
An example of this work is VaccinateLA, an initiative co-led by Kipke and Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati, PhD, MPH, a professor of preventive medicine and associate dean for community initiatives at the Keck School. The SC CTSI-led collaborative multimedia campaign aims to mitigate vaccine hesitancy and increase inoculation rates in partnership with local Black and Latino communities. Funded by the W.M. Keck Foundation, Vaccinate LA has reached over 2 million people to date and helped drive a spike in vaccinations in its target neighborhoods.
Working with the city housing authority, a new community engagement initiative for place-based research will further focus community engagement programs on specific areas, starting with South L.A.’s Nickerson Gardens Housing Project and its 1,000-plus housing units.
The healthcare delivery science program, a partnership with the L.A. County Department of Health Services, offers competitive pilot grants for teams with new approaches that can be implemented and rigorously tested at LAC+USC. Since its inception in 2016, this program has resulted in a strategy that helped diabetes patients gain long-term control over their blood sugar and avoid emergency room visits and hospital admissions, as well as a rapid referral approach for diabetic foot ulcers that reduced debilitating amputations above the knee by 40%.
These and other successful pilots are expanding to additional clinics at USC, to CHLA and beyond — just one more example of the impact of SC CTSI that was recognized by NIH reviewers.
To learn more about the SC CTSI, as well as the resources and services they provide, visit sc-CTSI.org.