May 30, 2008
Clinical Research Day explores new tools, technologies and challenges

The sixth annual MGH Clinical Research Day focused on tools and techniques that can help translate biological data into health care applications, the power that teamwork can bring to the development of novel technologies and the opportunities and challenges presented by the new Harvard-wide Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC).


POINTING TOWARD EXCELLENCE: An MGH investigator explains his research project at the Clinical Research Day poster session.

The May 22 event began with the keynote address by Isaac Kohane, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital. Kohane discussed how bioinformatics — the use of mathematical, statistical and computer science to analyze and manage biological data — will help improve the diagnosis and treatment of disease. He also described the Partners-based Informatics for Integrating Biology and the Bedside program, which he co-directs with Partners Chief Information Officer John Glaser, PhD.

Representing the winners of the Team Award, Sunitha Nagrath, PhD, of the Center for Engineering in Medicine, discussed how his group worked with investigators from the MGH Cancer Center to develop a microchip-based system for detecting and analyzing circulating tumor cells in the bloodstream. Translational Award recipient Michael Roehrl, MD, PhD, of MGH Pathology, described a system he and his colleagues developed for analyzing protein expression in colorectal tumors. Of the 228 research posters presented after the morning's session, 21 received hospitalwide or departmental awards.

The morning concluded with a panel addressing how the new CTSC will shape clinical research in the Harvard community. Mandated by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), CTSCs are replacing General Clinical Research Centers (GCRCs) as key sites for NIH-sponsored clinical research studies. NIH guidelines also require that a single application for CTSC funding be submitted from the entire Harvard system. A few days before Clinical Research Day, word came that the Harvard CTSC will receive $24 million a year in NIH funding over five years. Lee Nadler, MD, of BWH and the CTSC's principal investigator, noted that simply getting the Harvard schools and hospitals together to prepare and submit the application has been "transformative."

David M. Nathan, MD, current director of the Mallinckrodt GCRC at MGH, will be the hospital's representative to the Harvard CTSC; and Anne Klibanski, MD, now co-director of the GCRC, will be overall director of the CTSC Human Research Laboratory, which will encompass clinical research efforts at all participating Harvard hospitals. They explained how the new center will strive to bring resources to investigators and streamline procedures without compromising the independence of individual researchers. "The power of the CTSCs will be beyond what we can do locally," Klibanski said. "Where we'll really see answers to big medical questions will be in the national network of CTSCs."

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