Episode 1 | Meet the CTSC of Northern Ohio | From Research to Real Life Podcast


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In our first episode of From Research to Real Life, CTSC Principal Investigator, Grace McComsey, MD, FIDSA, and Executive Director, Shannon Swiatkowski, MS, MHcM, give us a proper introduction to the CTSC and the resources available to researchers and community members including funding and training opportunities.

Plus, learn how to access all these services through our featured service: Research Navigation offered by our Assistant Director of Research Concierge Services!



“... The best way [to describe Translational Science] probably is to say we're doing research to improve the research process and make every research study easier to do.”

- Grace McComsey, MD, FIDSA



Dr. Grace McComsey: All right. Hello, everyone. Welcome to the first episode of the Clinical and Translational Science Collaborative, or what we call CTSC, podcast. I am Grace McComsey. I'm the Principal investigator of the CTSC. And I have with me, Shannon, who will introduce herself.


Shannon Swiatkowski:  I'm Shannon Swiatkowski, I'm the Executive Director of the CTSC. And throughout this podcast, we're excited to bring some conversations with about researchers, community members and some changemakers really making a difference in Northeast Ohio and beyond working to advance medicine and health equity.


Dr. Grace McComsey: So this, this is the first podcast. And the really we want it to be the introduction to the CTSC. And you'll see some stuff, you know, people may know, some may not know.


Shannon Swiatkowski: So we'll be covering who we are, how we were formed, who we support, our mission and aims, our main focus areas, some of the services that we offer, some funding opportunities, events, how to be involved. And we're going to feature a resource on this episode of our Research Navigation Services. So to start, Dr. McComsey, please tell us about the foundation of the CTSC and why we exist?


Dr. Grace McComsey: Yeah. So the CTSC, Clinical and Translational Science Collaborative of Northern Ohio, and you'll see why we call it that way. We are one of 60 different, similar CTSAs nationally that are funded by one of the NIH institutes called NCATS and NCATS’ mission is very different than any other institute is disease agnostic. They want to advance translational research. It doesn't matter what disease your studying, their goal is to make treatments available to patients, very fast and make research easy and something accessible to everybody.


Shannon Swiatkowski: So you mentioned CTSC, CTSA -- Could you tell us a little difference between the two?


Dr. Grace McComsey:  Yes. that is actually probably the number one question I get about CTSC. So what is the difference between the two? So when we talk about our local collaborative we say “CTSC”. It's Clinical and Translational Science Collaborative of Northern Ohio. So notice none of the C’s refers to Cleveland. And that's what most people think when we talk about the national network. If I'm referring to a different CTSA like our colleagues in Ohio State I say “CTSA”, not “CTSC”.  And the A is for “Award” Clinical and Translational Science Awards. So when we refer to national centers, it's “Award”. When we refer to our local CTSA, it becomes “CTSC”.


Shannon Swiatkowski: So thank you. So now that we know the difference between CTSC and CTSA, who are our collaborators in the collaborative?


Dr. Grace McComsey:  Sure. So our CTSC is actually interesting because we have a lot of partners. Other CTSA’s have only one academic center. So our partners have expanded recently from the start of our CTSC in 2007. We have Case lead the CTSC, along with the Case-based faculty at MetroHealth, Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals and VA.

So we had five partners overall, in this renewal that this new cycle that started 2023, we added two new partners, NEOMED and the University of Toledo. So those two new partners are really meant to expand our efforts to improve research regionally so that we're not talking only Cleveland. That's why we became the CTSC of Northern Ohio.


Shannon Swiatkowski: So most folks know what basic science is, basic research, there's clinical research, but what is translational research?


Dr. Grace McComsey:  Yeah. That's interesting. Folks actually usually are, you know, either basic researchers or clinical. I think, you know, the area in between is referred to as translational research. So this is taking something from a lab and applying it to humans, because obviously what's happening in the lab has no meaning unless it impact human health. So that's translational research. It's kind of in between the two.

Now, lately I want to mention that the CTSA’s, and under NCATS are focusing on translational science. And that's the other question we get - what is the difference between translational research and science? So the best way to think about translational science is kind of doing research on not a specific disease, but just research to improve research. I know it sounds weird, right? But doing research to improve the obstacles that we currently have that are leading to research being so hard to do, and a lot of people giving up on research because it is hard. There are a lot of obstacles, some regulatory, some in enrollment. Up to half of the clinical trials nationally do not end up enrolling the number that they target.

So all these obstacles to research,NCATS is focusing on trying to improve those. So doing research for the sake of improving research and not for specific disease. So we use diseases as example, if I do a study to try to improve enrollment of underrepresented minorities in research, I may use diabetes as an example, but I'm not studying diabetes and its treatment.  I'm really studying how do I improve research overall. So that's why, you know, and it's tricky. But the best way probably is to say we're doing research to improve the research process and make every research study easier to do.


Shannon Swiatkowski:  So there's the translational spectrum that they talk about these days too.


Dr. Grace McComsey:  Correct, yeah. So that that's actually also interesting because there is a spectrum of translation from T1 to T4. Think about it as the more basic to the least basic - the more clinical.  So our CTSC has moved recently in this cycle that we're on to, to more late translation. And the reason for that, we're not saying that if you do early translation, if you do a Phase 1 study of a drug that's so novel that we don't care about you and we don't want to fund you, that's not true.

But somebody, that is NCATS and the CTSA, have to care about late translation, about how do we take a finding or an observation from a clinical study and make sure that clinicians are aware of it, that we implement it in primary care setting that we implement it in all the clinicians’ practice. So I would say, you know, we probably will make more impact that way because it's an area that's not getting a lot of attention from a lot of institutes. But NCATS is focusing on it, and it's making it their mission to improve the health of everybody in the community.


Shannon Swiatkowski:  So the shift in focus from the early stage research to more later stage research has really led us to operate in different modules in the new grant cycle. So these are focus areas and collaborative efforts that are, involving personnel from each of our partner institutions. Can you tell me a little bit more about the new structure?


Dr. Grace McComsey: Sure. yeah. It's hard to have a large grant and have seven partners. Right. And, we have to structure it into different pieces. and each piece has expertise that's involved from each of the partners. So we have, for example, Workforce Development. It is very important to have Workforce Development effort because if you ask anybody who leads a research center, they tell you the first problem is “we don't have enough people to work on research.”

So we are, we have a strategy. We're doing a lot of activities, to try to draw all kinds of levels to research, whether it's high schoolers, colleges, junior faculty. So Workforce Development, we're pretty active. Even year one in Workforce Development. Other things, other training - so whether training people to become researchers, to become leaders in research, or have specific training grants that are, kind of part of our CTSC.

So, as you know, we have a K12, T32. So people are wondering what these mean. it's basically different, training grants that are aimed at different levels, some to investigators to make them researchers. some to, fellows, some to, pre doctoral. So before they have their MD or PhD. So some are young, some are more seasoned, but it's different kind of training grants that we have within the CTSC.

As well as other modules, like, you know, Informatics, other tools, in a way, for translational science - what do you need to do research? That's how the CTSC says things. So Informatics module is focusing on how do we bring big data, how do we help researchers access any kind of data that they have, to ask an important research question and be able to answer it.

Another module is Resources and Services. It's kind of like a way to provide different services Investigators need. And probably last but not least is Community Engagement. That is a core that's really important for us now that we're trying to affect the health of the community. So you can't do that without engaging the community, right? And that's why community engagement actually is something new to the CTSC. But I feel it's a very active area.

And, as you know, the one module that people love, right, that gets a lot of attention is the Pilot Funding that we have.


Shannon Swiatkowski:  So, speaking of pilot funding, could you tell me a little bit more about the various opportunities we have available in the CTSC?


Dr. Grace McComsey: Sure. so funding comes at different levels. within the CTSC. The smallest amount of money, we call them vouchers. So they are a funding for a research project for specific reason, like a service or somebody to do a job. Small amount of money, up to $7,500, the easiest ones to get. Then after that we have Core Pilot up to $10,000. And we have our Annual Pilot, that runs obviously annually. And that is usually in the range of $50,000 larger projects, that really are important that we have a very good record, with these projects becoming R01’s and becoming important NIH grants.

The one I didn't mention, is Themed Pilot. So every year we take one or more themed pilot. So, for example, during the COVID time, right, we did COVID and we had a lot of funding that was0 given to COVID projects. This year. we're really focusing on health disparities. So we have Community Engagement and Health Disparity Pilot. So those are the Theme Pilots. And usually they're in the range of $20,000. So all kind of, you know, numbers, for money, all kind of effort and difficulty level I would say to get them.


Shannon Swiatkowski: So give us an example of what a voucher might be about.


Dr. Grace McComsey: Sure. I'll give you an example. So with our push for community engagement we are using a research a mobile unit. So basically it's a research bus that's funded by one of our partners that we use to go to different either events, or to enroll patients from specific community. So a mobile unit, for example, rental could be part of a research project for a voucher.

Another example would be statistician. That's one thing that, you know, everybody loves to ask us for by statistical support. If you have a project and all you need is, you know, 10 hours, 20 hours of a biostatistician to help you, that would be perfect for a voucher.

And one other thing, and I think people would like to know is that this cycle we're considering community organizations as one of our partners. So, they're considered, you know, as a partner, if you will, as any of our seven academic centers that are involved in the CTSC.  The reason is we want to work with them. we want to consider them as real partners with us, in different projects that we do together that we lead together. So they are equal to a academic partner for us


Shannon Swiatkowski: I've heard a lot about vouchers and annual pilots and themed pilots. So we have a lot of funding opportunities that are available for researchers. What are some other things that we have available for researchers?


Dr. Grace McComsey:  Yeah, that's a good question. And funding people is not the only thing we do, right? So we provide services. And what I mean by that, we have we have a large number of services we provide.

We have a lot of help for clinical research. So any multi-center study we help with regulatory, with compliance. We help with, you know, REDCap access for clinical trials. We have a very active DEIA program led by our director, Gelise Thomas. And as you know, that's really helping us get closer to the community as well. We do have a lot of informatics help - any big data. Now we're working, for example, with all of our partners to get Epic and use Cosmos and be able to do studies within Cleveland as well as in collaboration with other people outside of our CTSC.

We have a lot of stuff - we have training, including ATLAS. It's a new program that we started this year. that seems to be taking off nicely. It's to form the new leaders in clinical research. It's easy to be a clinical researcher, but it's not easy to lead a group, research staff and faculty. So we're helping them in this leadership formation. We have programs like Science Cafe that's meant to bring people together. It brings basic researchers with clinical, clinical researchers with very different expertise to be together in one meeting and start collaboration.

So we are here to help with, the way I see it, funding, services, getting people together - basic researchers with clinical, clinical from different expertise, just getting people together. And that's the best of research.


Shannon Swiatkowski: The CTSC really has a lot to offer researchers. Luckily we have someone who can help navigate all the services that the CTSC has to offer.


Dr. Grace McComsey:  Yeah. I think, you know, anybody who's listening to us, if they never use the CTSC is like “I don't know where to start”, right? So because of that reason, we do have an Assistant Director of Research Concierge Services, Jeri Jewett-Tennant. Jeri's great. She has done research herself. Public Health research. And she's very good at helping people. So she'll be the first person to contact, probably, if you need to get, you know, any services, any funding, any question, even about the CTSC - “Can you help connect me with somebody?” So Jeri would be the best person for that.


Shannon Swiatkowski: So Jeri's like the front door for our for our services.


Dr. Grace McComsey:   Correct. I mean, I would see Jeri as a good, you know, front door, right? She can, even meet people one on one to help them and show them how to navigate our website or our services All you have to do is look at our website and, check the navigator services and either email Jeri or she can be contacted for one on one meeting.


Shannon Swiatkowski: So the first thing that the investigators need to do is become a CTSC member.


Dr. Grace McComsey:  Correct. This is one membership that's free and we'll get you a lot of services, lots of funding. So I really urge everybody go to our website. It's very easy, takes two minutes. Become a member of the CTSC. It is free. It's open to anybody and you can then navigate what we have, all the services we offer, all the training. Definitely. It's worth it.


Shannon Swiatkowski: For investigators who are using services of the CTSC, I want to remind them to enter their service into SPARC Requests so that we can capture that and use it for our metrics.


Dr. Grace McComsey: Correct. It is very important. You know, we get all the funding from NIH, right? the way that we show NIH that we are doing what we're supposed to do is to report on what we've done, what funding, what services. So please, yes, people need to put all the request in SPARC.

And also, I like to remind everybody, always cite the CTSC. If you’re getting services from us, if you're getting funding from the CTSC, all we're asking is for you to remember when you write your research findings is please cite the CTSC number so that NCATS knows that the tax dollars that they're putting into the CTSA’s is going to fund important research.


Shannon Swiatkowski: Thanks for the citation reminder. That's really important. And if SPARC is very confusing to an investigator, please contact Jeri, our Research Concierge. She can help you.


Dr. Grace McComsey: That's why we have Jeri, right? Remember, please visit our website if you need to contact Jeri. Her link and the email will be in the description.

So I think we covered a lot today. And hopefully you enjoyed the introduction to the CTSC. This is only the first of the podcast. We will focus on different areas and future podcasts. So thank you for listening!


Shannon Swiatkowski: Thank you!


Outro: From Research to Real Life is brought to you by the Clinical and Translational Science Collaborative of Northern Ohio. The views, recommendations and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the presenters and not necessarily those of the CTSC or its partners.