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Most discoveries that can impact the health of the public are all teetering on the word if. If the drug gets approved, if it gets verified, if money and resources are available. If is why most research gets stuck at potential.

“What will it take for this potential to become a reality?” asks Tong Sun, the new executive director and assistant dean of the Institute of Translational Health Sciences (ITHS).

ITHS is the answer.

The institute is dedicated to speeding science to the clinic setting for the benefit of patients and communities throughout Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho (WWAMI region) and even does collaborative work nationally. Last year, ITHS assisted nearly 3,000 investigators in translating research from lab to clinic; about 80% of that activity came from the University of Washington School of Medicine.

“We may not be the sexiest in the scientific community because we don’t make the discoveries, but we help others realize their dreams,” says Sun.

Why was ITHS created?

ITHS was developed with support from the National Institutes of Health through its Clinical and Translational Science Awards Program, with the goal of making translational research better, faster and cheaper.

And that is just what Dr. Nora Disis, principal investigator of ITHS and director of the UW Medicine Cancer Vaccine Institute, has helped develop over the past 20 years.

“During my career I have realized that it is really difficult to do translational research. The first time I had a vaccine I thought I could do a clinical trial with, I had no idea how to get it going,” says Disis.

Moving from the research phase to clinical trials can be a challenge — and it’s why ITHS was created.

What are the barriers to translational science?

Sun, who has a background in microbiology, explained that the majority of basic research never gets a chance to be tested in drug development.

The cost to get drugs approved is high, often more than $2 million, and takes time — sometimes 15 to 20 years — to get approval or cut through red tape.

“In a way, the translational process is broken and the efficiency is very low. That is one of the reasons that it is a major drive for the NIH to develop this program,” says Sun.

How is ITHS breaking down the barriers and challenging the status quo?

ITHS has been implementing and developing programs to push boundaries common to the translational process like data processing, training and lack of diversity.

Data processing

Biomedical informatics has been an important step in improving how data is processed and shared. ITHS is working with EPIC and Leaf, electronic health and research informatics companies, to develop research tools to help create centralized data and deidentified mining and provide the consultation resources to support use of these tools.

Training and education

At every step of the project, ITHS is there to provide training and educational resources. From hiring nurses and research coordinators to performing clinical research to manufacturing drugs, ITHS has the resources and wants to share them.

Diversity in clinical research

ITHS created the Integrating Special Populations Group, which is a group of experts who share the goal of bringing more diversity to research — not just ethnic diversity, but age as well.

“We know that lack of diversity, both in pre-clinical research and in clinical trials, limits the effectiveness of new therapies that we develop,” says Disis.

What are the results?

Researchers and investigators are using ITHS resources to produce life-saving results.

For example, ITHS and the National Center for Accelerating Translational Science have worked with cell therapy experts at Seattle Children’s under the leadership of Dr. Bonnie Ramsey and Dr. Julie Park to fund and jumpstart pediatric CAR T-cell therapy, which aims to develop new immunotherapies to improve outcomes for childhood cancer. This project has sites from Washington, D.C., to California, with partnering institutions dedicated to the translation of this research and to the development of processes to disseminate trial information nationwide.

ITHS has also supported researchers tackling the opioid epidemic. The Six Building Blocks were developed by investigators at ITHS and Kaiser Permanente to help improve opioid-prescribing practices.

With over 5,300 active researchers and 2,400 supported publications, ITHS is, in a big way, bringing scientific results and hope to patients who need it the most.


If you are a looking for your research to be accelerated, ITHS want to support you.


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