In 2007 Vanderbilt received the largest research grant in its history: the $40 million Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA). Additional funding since then has raised the grant to $50 million.
Vanderbilt has used the CTSA funding from the National Institutes of Health to create the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (VICTR).
VICTR supports investigator training, facilities, community outreach, and Vanderbilt’s Clinical Research Center, a top nationally recognized site for patient-oriented research for more than 50 years.
“VICTR brings researchers together and provides resources to take a good idea from the laboratory to the clinic and into the community,” says Dr. Gordon Bernard, assistant vice chancellor for research, who directs VICTR. “We’re partners with Meharry Medical College, and investigators at other institutions can access VICTR and CTSA resources through collaboration with any Vanderbilt or Meharry investigator.”
VICTR recently assisted physicians at Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga, Tenn., with a study on ventilator use that transformed hospital protocol.
“We will consider support for any research project that seeks to improve the health of the public. That doesn’t just mean typical medical research,” Bernard continues. “It can mean law, business, education—music therapy from the Blair School or educators at Peabody who use MRI to study how children learn.”
VICTR also supports community partnerships—particularly with minorities—through its Community Engagement Core. Vanderbilt and historically black Meharry Medical College created the Core to foster research partnerships, to help researchers conduct effective community-engaged research, and to understand the community’s health priorities. For many researchers, a typical experience in engaging the community is exclusively focused on recruitment and retention.
“Recruitment for participation in research studies can be quite challenging,” says Bettina Beech, Vanderbilt associate professor of general internal medicine and public health, associate director of health disparities research at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, and co-director for the Community Engagement Research Core of the CTSA. “Less than 5 percent of adults nationally participate in clinical trials; participation by underrepresented minorities is even lower.”
A survey commissioned by Vanderbilt suggests that some people may shy away from research because of concerns about needles and blood draws, which are common to many clinical trials.
“But we do more than clinical trials,” Beech states. “Many kinds of research are not invasive—prevention trials, surveys, psychology studies. We need to educate the public about the good that research does. There are plenty of media stories about medical mishaps. We need to show the positives.”
Beech, who is also director of public health research and evaluation at the Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center, asserts that researchers can recruit more minorities by being sensitive to all types of people and engendering trust in the community.
But how do investigators and community members find each other in the first place?
With a nod to the dating Web site eHarmony, this summer the Community Engagement Core will launch “eConnect,” a social networking site intended to help researchers connect with community partners based on mutual interest and compatibility.
Appropriately, Beech and her colleagues are debuting eConnect with a “speed dating” event. Investigators and community groups will meet and learn what each has to offer.
“We’re here to help people find each other,” Beech says.