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SECTR partnership maximizes resources

by Mary Helen Yarborough
Public Relations
To effectively compete for federal research dollars, MUSC has teamed up with two other universities and several research and medical entities to form the Southeastern Clinical & Translational Research Institute (SECTR).
The only such effort in the nation that includes partners from two states, SECTR has combined resources and expertise to apply for  the Clinical Translational Research Award (CTSA)  from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“We’re the only CTSA collaborative in the nation that includes three full university partners with a multi-state reach,” said Randal Davis, MUSC’s CTSA project director. “We are truly unique in that ours is the only CTSA partnership focused on health issues specific to rural areas and health disparities.”
MUSC, which has mature and successful NIH-funding mechanisms, will serve as the lead institution working with its academic partners at the University of South Carolina (USC), Clemson University and the Medical College of Georgia (MCG).
SECTR institutions have provided enormous leadership and support, pledging $10.55 million a year to the initiative.
“The MUSC leadership group, particularly Drs. [Ray] Greenberg, [Provost John] Raymond and [COM dean Jerry] Reves, have been absolutely wonderful,” said Kathleen Brady, M.D. Ph.D., professor, and director of the Clinical Neuroscience Division and General Clinical Research Center. She and Perry Halushka, M.D., Ph.D., have championed the CTSA process at MUSC. “Because of federal budget cuts, there is not enough money to support what we’ve been tasked to do, so institutional support has been essential. The MUSC leadership team has provided both moral support and a substantial investment of resources necessary to support the partnership.”
Halushka echoed the critical role of the university leadership, especially the role that MUSC has played in the encouragement and success of the CTSA effort.
“I can’t over-emphasize the importance of the institutional support and the leadership by Drs. Greenberg,  Reves, and John Raymond. That has been an absolutely critical part of the application,” Halushka said.
SECTR also includes key players in research and health care, including Greenwood Genetics Center, Georgia Research Alliance, S.C. Research Authority, Health Sciences South Carolina, and four VA medical centers .
SECTR would receive up to $6 million per year for five years from NIH if the application is successful. The funds would be shared among all SECTR partners and would cover programmatic expenses, Davis said. The CTSA application will be reviewed later this year.
“We know we have tough competition,” said MUSC President Ray Greenberg, M.D., Ph.D., referring to larger medical schools with greater resources for translational studies. “But we have a 1-in-5 chance of getting funded.”
Greenberg said that if recent history is indicative, SECTR should succeed in attaining CTSA status considering that MUSC was able to get its planning grant funded with its first attempt. “And that is pretty extraordinary to get funded on the first round of grant proposals,” he said.
Brady said that while the ultimate goal is to achieve the NIH CTSA designation, SECTR already has resulted in a number of projects within and across the South Carolina/Georgia border. Among these projects, which grew out of the $1 million CTSA pilot project program  last year, is an expansion into South Carolina of the telehealth network called REACH-MD, which was originally developed by  MUSC Stroke Center director Robert Adams, M.D., and collaborators at MCG.  Another successful pilot project was the school-based network that resulted in 20 memoranda of understanding with I-95 corridor school districts. New collaborations between MUSC, MCG and USC have resulted in eight pending applications for extramural funding, which have resulted in an extramural funded project; and two Duke endowment grants including a $300,000 award as part of the school-based research network.
Competition for a new round of SECTR pilot projects was announced during a Town Hall meeting Jan. 10. These projects will be supported through institutional contributions made by MUSC, USC and MCG.  
Halushka is the director of the SECTR Pilot Project Program. SECTR pilot project applications will be judged by a panel of faculty from throughout the partner organizations, Halushka said, adding, “the pilot projects have led to a lot of positive results.”
The keys to a successful CTSA application are already in place, Halushka said. “We really have it,” he said. “If the institution doesn’t support what you are doing and put money into the program, it will be impossible to compete on a national level. But our institution has demonstrated that they back us. …The partnership between MUSC, USC and MCG has incredible potential.”
Six SECTR pilot project grants are currently offered. Five of the awards target discovery, development, exploration, novel methodologies and technologies, and junior faculty training, and carry a $50,000 award each. A sixth pilot project grant category, the innovators grant, requires collaborators from at least two of the SECTR institutions and should have the potential for very high impact. It may be funded up to $150,000.
For more information on SECTR, go to


Friday, Jan. 18, 2008
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