This fall we received a four-year, $27.2 million Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), renewing the Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences (NUCATS) Institute. The grant recognizes NUCATS’ stellar work, and will allow us to continue accelerating translational research across six Northwestern University schools, with three clinical partners, including Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Since 2007, NUCATS has served more than 3,000 investigators and assisted in the publication of nearly 1,000 scientific papers.
NUCATS supports translational research from inception to dissemination. For example, NUCATS research studio consultations identify resources to support new grant applications; the Multidisciplinary Mentored Career Development (KL2) program ensures protected time for faculty mentored research and training; and Galter Health Sciences Library helps disseminate and assess the impact of findings.
Feinberg supports the NUCATS infrastructure made available to our investigators, but this new funding will enable further innovation, breaking down barriers in the translational research pipeline and helping transform discoveries into real-world treatments. We’re accelerating our ability to advance discovery and put that knowledge into the hands of physicians.
One of the main goals of our CTSA, aligned with the NIH’s focus on speeding up the clinical trial process, is to integrate research into clinical care systems, with the goal that every clinical encounter becomes an opportunity for research and learning to improve human health.
While that may sound ambitious, it is within our grasp: With the CTSA’s support, we also have access to an extremely mature data platform, the Northwestern Medicine Enterprise Data Warehouse (NMEDW), which contains information on 4.9 million patients, collected in partnership with our main clinical partner, Northwestern Memorial HealthCare. “Every clinical encounter becomes an opportunity for research” means that we are working to gather patient information and make sure it is accurately entered into electronic health records (EHR), leading to more accurate reports about diseases with less effort. These improvements will allow us to be predictive and preventive, selecting treatments providing the best possible outcomes.
We know that the NMEDW can be leveraged in this way because Sanjiv Shah, ’00 MD, a cardiologist and scientist at Feinberg, has already demonstrated it. With NUCATS’s help (as was highlighted in the Summer 2015 issue of Northwestern Medicine Magazine), Dr. Shah obtained information about hard-to-find patients with specific types of heart failure for his research. Using nearly eight years of NMEDW data, he uncovered three distinct types of patients with the condition, each requiring different protocols. Before this discovery, these patients were all treated with the same approach and by different specialists. Today, they are referred to his clinic. That kind of precision medicine is possible when you develop a data platform enabling continuous learning.
Emilie Powell, ’09 MD, GME, an emergency physician and Feinberg assistant professor, also united clinical and data-mining expertise to investigate emergency department sepsis. Utilizing the NMEDW, she identified 376 patients with sepsis, and developed a detailed simulation that she tested in real emergency departments. Her findings are already being used to help train Northwestern Medicine emergency medicine residents. This research shows how innovative use of informatics can create a linkage between our clinical, research and teaching activities, advancing scientific discovery while training the next generation of clinical leaders.
Bing Ho, MD, MPH, a transplant nephrologist at the Kovler Organ Transplantation Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and a Feinberg assistant professor, enlisted NMEDW to develop a dashboard to quickly analyze kidney transplant data. This dashboard has already led to improvement in patient and allograft survival. This innovation shows how aligning Feinberg’s leading-edge research with world-class clinical resources results in the rapid development of techniques improving the lives of patients.
Accelerating clinical research doesn’t stop once new knowledge is uncovered: Our Galter Health Sciences Library, part of our CTSA, can assess and disseminate findings so other scientists can use our discoveries to benefit patients. Galter’s Metrics and Impact Core assesses research impact, and optimizes visibility and research dissemination. Although EHRs have not always been designed with research in mind, a team of informatics experts is available to support clinical research data collection, including through EHR-based informatics consultations.
Our scientists and physician-scientists are at the forefront of their fields; leveraging the resources of NUCATS and the CSTA means that we are better equipped than ever before to generate groundbreaking discoveries that drive medicine. It is an exciting time for clinical medicine and research at Northwestern Medicine.
With warm regards,
Eric G. Neilson, MD
Vice President for Medical Affairs and Lewis Landsberg Dean,
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine