Collaboration is king
Landmark grant unlocks translational research opportunities for Medical College and Milwaukee consortium
A new era of collaboration began this summer as the National Institutes of Health awarded a $20 million grant to The Medical College of Wisconsin, representing a consortium of eight Milwaukee institutions dedicated to trans- forming the biomedical research enterprise in southeast Wisconsin to advance patient care and education.
Ping Bai, Lab Coordinator in Dr. Michelle Johnson’s Rehabilitation Robotics Research & Design Laboratory at the VA Medical Center, demonstrates how the Activities of Daily Living Exercise Robot can be used by stroke survivors to re-learn actions such as drinking from a cup. Dr. Johnson (center) is collaborating on new robotics projects with Sheku Kamara from Milwaukee School of Engineering, whom she met through the Clinical and Translational Science Institute of Southeast Wisconsin.
The five-year Clinical and Translational Science Award is being used to create a borderless, synergistic biomedical research enterprise that will accelerate the translation of research discoveries into new and improved medical treatments. The Medical College coordinates the grant, which is administered through a new academic entity recognized by all partner institutions – the Clinical and Translational Science Institute of Southeast Wisconsin.
“This award empowers us to bring together biomedical investigators, educators, industry, patient advocacy groups and civic organizations, as well as local and state governments, to create meaningful and effective community engagement to achieve the goals of the grant and contribute to advance the health of Wisconsin’s citizens,” said Reza Shaker, MD, Fel ’88, principal investigator for the grant and Director of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Dr. Shaker is Senior Associate Dean for Clinical and Translational Research and the Joseph E. Geenen Professor and Chief of Gastroenterology at the Medical College.
Exclusive national designation
The Medical College received a perfect score on its award application and was one of only nine grant recipients this year. Fewer than half of all medical schools in the nation have received a Clinical and Translational Science Award since the program’s inception in 2003.
“NIH review committees rarely award a perfect score to even the best grant proposals,” said John R. Raymond, Sr., MD, President and CEO of the Medical College. “The fact that the Milwaukee consortium’s proposal received this score reflects the sound planning, strong infrastructure and achievable goals outlined in our proposal. It also reflects the NIH’s enthusiastic support for this national model of community-wide academic and clinical collaboration to advance medical discoveries and patient care treatments.”
Gamut of expertise
The eight member organizations are the Medical College, Marquette University, the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), the BloodCenter of Wisconsin, Children’s Hospital and Health System, Froedtert Hospital and the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center. The award gives consortium members the opportunity to share each other’s research resources, technology, knowledge and expertise to work toward common goals in health care. Collaborators may seek adjunct faculty appointments at partnering colleges or universities.
The Institute’s research portfolio currently includes more than 140 projects, and 17 collaborative research studies are already underway, funded through the Medical College’s Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin program.
The grant also is enabling the expansion of academic and training programs. The Medical College has launched a PhD program in basic and translational research, and its new master’s degree program in clinical and translational science now includes coursework at Marquette, MSOE and UWM. Marquette is also developing a PhD program for clinical and translational rehabilitative health sciences. Outreach programs are being created to promote science among undergraduates, and professional development programs will help advance the research careers of young faculty members.
How the award makes a difference
The modest appearance of the apparatus belies its innovation. A single arm. A simple harness. A common computer. Yet the robot in the lab of Michelle Johnson, PhD, is helping give patients something of immeasurable value – their independence.
Dr. Johnson, Associate Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Medical College and Research Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Marquette University, directs the Rehabilitation Robotics Research & Design Laboratory, located at the Zablocki VA Medical Center. There she designs and develops specialized, affordable and intelligent robotic assistants used to provide physical therapy for patients with diminished arm function.
Dr. Johnson’s work is focused on assisting stroke survivors relearn complex movements that allow them to perform activities of daily living, such as using utensils to eat a meal. ADLER, the Activities of Daily Living Exercise Robot she designed, helps patients practice these movements while also providing research data for studying the recovery process for upper limbs impaired after stroke so that better interventions for stroke rehabilitation can be developed.
“It is our hope that with better understanding and interventions, we can enhance the patient rehabilitation process and improve patient outcomes,” she said.
The opportunities for Dr. Johnson to accomplish her goals are perhaps greater than ever, as hers is among a number of research programs already benefitting from the collaboration enabled by the Clinical and Translational Science Award.
As an active member of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute of Southeast Wisconsin, Dr. Johnson recognized a unique opportunity for collaboration when she met Sheku Kamara who manages the Rapid Prototyping Center at Milwaukee School of Engineering. Backed by the resources of the Institute and the national Clinical and Translational Science Award now supporting it, Dr. Johnson and Kamara have forged a partnership that unites her robotic research and designs and his engineering and fabrication expertise.
“The Institute is at the core of what brought us all together,” Dr. Johnson said. “It leverages the talent and resources in the area to meet shared goals. We are able to utilize the expertise at MSOE for what we are doing in stroke therapy and research.”
The relationship is offering the partnering faculty members new opportunities for innovation, quality and creativity in robotic systems that otherwise would have remained untapped. Dr. Johnson and Kamara are currently developing a new version of the ADLER system that could be applied to children with brain or nerve injury.
Representatives from each of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute member institutions respond positively to the news of the National Institutes of Health awarding the Milwaukee consortium a Clinical and Translational Science Award.
“NIH review committees rarely award a perfect score to even the best grant proposals. The fact that the Milwaukee consortium’s proposal received this score reflects the sound planning, strong infrastructure and achievable goals outlined in our proposal. It also reflects the NIH’s enthusiastic support for this national model of community-wide academic and clinical collaboration to advance medical discoveries and patient care treatments.”
John R. Raymond, MD
President and CEO
The Medical College of Wisconsin
“This CTSA funding is very important for our region. For the BloodCenter of Wisconsin, it allows our organization to work jointly with our partner hospitals and academic institutions to translate basic research into clinical research and subsequently to better patient care. We are very proud to be part of this collaboration which brings together a dedicated community of physicians, scientists and healthcare practitioners who are dedicated to advancing patient care.”
President and CEO
BloodCenter of Wisconsin
“Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin invests millions of dollars in pediatric research each year in the effort to find better health care for our children. Research by investigators at Children’s Hospital has increased by 92 percent over the last six years. The resources we have created to enhance pediatric research in Wisconsin will continue to provide critical infrastructure for all translational research through the CTSA grant. We are excited to continue to work closely with our research partners throughout the community to bring greater resources to medical and public health research to discover causes, treatments and prevention of disease.”
Peggy Troy, MSN, RN,
President and CEO
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin
“What defines Froedtert Hospital as an academic medical center is its enduring partnership with The Medical College of Wisconsin and our shared commitment to patient care, research and medical education. Our dedication to bringing medical research to the bedside will be amplified by the creation of a Clinical and Translational Science Institute in Milwaukee. This unique collaboration harnesses the collective strengths of outstanding local organizations and unites all of us around the goal of enhancing the health of the people of southeastern Wisconsin and beyond.”
William D. Petasnick
President and Chief Executive Officer
“The CTSA grant will facilitate the continued development of an infrastructure that fosters collaborative research among the institutions of higher education and health care organizations in the Milwaukee area. Marquette is pleased to be part of the collaboration that includes sharing equipment and laboratories, joint faculty appointments and the support and training of young clinical investigators in order to advance patient care within our community and beyond.”
Rev. Robert A. Wild, SJ
“Milwaukee is fortunate to have many top-notch academic, health care and engineering professionals and resources in the area. It is logical and practical for us to work together on research projects to improve patient care. Each institution brings a unique set of knowledge and skills to the Clinical Translational Science Institute, making it a very powerful collaboration. From discovering new principles to applying those means to practical human means, I am pleased that MSOE is part of the work happening in the CTSI, which will improve the health of Wisconsin residents.”
Hermann Viets, PhD
Milwaukee School of Engineering
"The Clinical and Translational Science Institute is an excellent example of how the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is advancing collaborative research with The Medical College of Wisconsin and other significant regional institutions. It further substantiates UWM's need to be in closer proximity to the Medical College, which we will do through our development of Innovation Park in Wauwatosa."
Carlos E. Santiago, PhD
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
“The men and women of the Zablocki VA take our mission to take care of veterans very seriously. It’s an honor to collaborate with other professionals in the medical community to come up with breakthroughs that will have a profound impact on those who have served their country and expect nothing but the best. The Clinical and Translational Science Institute will give us more opportunities to partner with The Medical College of Wisconsin, Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to create meaningful treatment in the areas of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and stroke recovery. We’re also excited that this may mean future collaborations with the best minds from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, the BloodCenter of Wisconsin, Children’s Hospital and Health System and Froedtert Hospital. We owe nothing but the best for those currently serving, and those who gave of themselves from World War II through Vietnam and other wars. Every dollar and every minute we spend on research and treatment will lead to a more fulfilling life for our veterans, and for that, I am sincerely grateful.”
Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center
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