Director's Message - August 2022

Just a few months ago, I wrote as the horrors of the war in Ukraine began to unfold. Now we have pivotal disruptions happening here at home with recent Supreme Court decisions. These rulings on access to abortion, gun laws, and climate change surely are an assault on the health, equity, and well-being of our population, as well as the equal rights of women and the underrepresented across our nation. We should acknowledge that these issues are not separate from our own work at Columbia. I encourage us to continue to stay engaged in these national and global challenges, while working on academic missions. We must continue to question why we are here, what is our purpose, and how can we now help those that are suffering inequities and oppression at home and abroad.           

This month marks the end of the first year of our five-year Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) funding cycle. In the last year, we continued to provide over 70 services and programs to Columbia University researchers, study teams, our community partners in upper Manhattan, and collaborators from other academic institutions, industry, and local and regional government. We launched a new Resource for Team Expertise and Management Support (TEAMS), with an emphasis on equity in team science. The TEAMS framework and approach is based on the Formation of Inclusive Teams (FIT) model, developed internally, and informed by TEAMS Director Dr. Sandra Soo-Jin Lee’s ethnographic research on successful team building.  Both TEAMS and our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee support collaboration to integrate diversity and maximize impact, in order to fulfill the goals of equity and inclusion. Our DEI Committee includes faculty and staff from all our thirteen Resources and is addressing four key areas: workforce development, health equity, Irving Institute administration and human resources, and community engagement.  

We continue to increase our interdisciplinarity through strategic partnerships across Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC), New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYPH), the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI), and the full breadth of Columbia Schools and programs that span Columbia’s Morningside, Manhattanville, and Lamont-Doherty campuses. These collaborations help us to fulfill our mission of advancing discoveries in translational research to improve patient care and the health and wellbeing of our communities. 

Our Recruitment and Retention Initiative works across the Irving Institute and Columbia to promote equitable participation in health research. We recently introduced a new web portal with resources at the Irving Institute and CUIMC to support this work. The team is also seeking feedback(link is external and opens in a new window) to help improve future offerings to support participant recruitment and retention. 

In 2021 I was appointed to the CTSA Steering Committee, which positions our Columbia CTSA program as a national leader in a network of over 50 sites across the country. The committee is a key element in the governance and priorities of the CTSA consortium and provides leadership for sharing of policies, practices and resources, leading discussion and joint agreement on opportunities and challenges for clinical and translational research at the national level. The Steering Committee is leading a task force to examine the efficiencies of clinical trials, and has supported a task force on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) to become a formalized long-standing Enterprise Committee. The DEIA task force provided recommendations that can be aligned with the activities of our DEI Committee at the Irving Institute and is in synergy with Columbia-wide activities.  In response to COVID-19, the CTSA consortium is an elemental partner in the ACTIV-1 trial that recently published promising results(link is external and opens in a new window), and developed the National COVID Cohort Collaborative (N3C)(link is external and opens in a new window) to support a cloud-based COVID database of electronic health records and other data across 100s of academic institutions and hospitals.  

The landscape of clinical research and translational science is experiencing notable changes including new leadership at our funding agency, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), new leadership at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and a re-envisioned funding opportunity announcement for the CTSA Program that will greatly influence the future of our hub when our current grant cycle ends in 2026. This period of disruption will lead to innovation and evolution within our national and local CTSA programs at a time when we are grappling with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the increasing urgency to address climate change-related health impacts, and the need to ensure health equity for all. NCATS seeks to support collaborative innovations to transform the field of translational science through its funding opportunities, including the Collaborative and Innovative Acceleration Award (link is external and opens in a new window)aimed at teams from two or more CTSA Program hubs. We are eager to support innovative projects involving Columbia University researchers and encourage you to contact us(link sends e-mail) with your potential proposals.  

The offerings of the Irving Institute will always continue to grow and develop, spanning all stages of the translational science spectrum, from basic research to advances in clinical care and treatments to public health, and I am proud of what we have accomplished this year. As director, I encourage more “positive disruption” to the status quo and continue to expand my own learning to meet the needs of the university, the CTSA Program and the communities we serve. 

Muredach P. Reilly, MBBCh, MSCE
Director, Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research