University of Miami wins prestigious grant to bring benefits of research to communities

The University of Miami has won a $20 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to help translate research results into improved healthcare in areas including the use of stem cells to treat cardiovascular disease, testing women in Little Haiti for cervical cancer and preventing HIV transmission from mother to baby through antiretroviral injections.

The money will help UM establish the Miami Clinical and Translational Science Institute to ensure that scientific advancements go beyond medical journals and translate into improved care for patients, especially in marginalized communities that are often last to see the benefits of new products and procedures. The institute will have no physical center, but will support university research and clinical services offered by the UM health system.

“It takes 17 years for research to move from clinical study to providing care, and our mission is to help speed that process along,” said José Szapocznik, chairman of UM’s department of epidemiology and public health.

With this grant, UM joins a prestigious consortium across the nation that began with 12 academic health institutions in 2006 and now includes 60 institutions dedicated to bringing cutting-edge developments to the frontlines of healthcare.

“This puts us in with the big boys and big girls,” said UM president Donna Shalala. “This gives us the possibility of applying for other grants and we are honored to be included in this scientific consortium.”

In the past five years, the university has undertaken major initiatives designed to elevate UM’s medical school on national stage. But the school has also suffered setbacks including the layoffs in May of 900 full-time and part-time workers. The announcement Monday of the NIH grant “increases the reputation of the university substantially,” said Dr. Pascal Goldschmidt, dean of the medical school and CEO of the UM Health System.

UM’s grant application coined the term “culturalized health science” to describe the cultural understanding that is required of healthcare providers in diverse communities such as Miami. Guerda Nicolas, the chairwoman of educational and psychological studies at UM, gave the example of explaining depression to someone who speaks Korean or Haitian Creole, two languages that don’t have an exact translation for the medical condition. Understanding the linguistic implications of a disease is crucial to effectively treating these patients.

“Culture is what we live every day,” Nicolas said. “And we see a significant impact from culture in the manifestation of how we experience health.”

UM’s new institute will be especially focused on the intersection of culture and healthcare, not only in treatment, but also in wellness and disease prevention. There is also a unique opportunity to study some of the global health concerns that are present in such an international population.

Practically speaking, the grant means that UM has more money for gathering, storing and analyzing patient data in a single database. This could help researchers recognize patterns in certain demographics and identify risk factors that could lead to more efficient screening and disease prevention.

Although most of the money from the grant will go to the science side of the research, some will also be set aside for the salaries of the community leaders who partner with the university on the research.

Goldschmidt emphasized that these community partnerships are a two-way street, with clinical services reaching the people who need them most, but also with an outlet for feedback that helps the research institution prioritize studies that investigate real health concerns.

“We already are doing tremendous work to save lives and to continue prevent disease,” Goldschmidt said, “and our hope is that we will stimulate the work of this kind that will ultimately result in a healthier South Florida.”