Director's Message - January 2023

Happy New Year to all. With each new beginning, the Irving Institute looks forward to change and development across our resources, the university, local and national networks. This year we welcome Dr. Joni Rutter(link is external and opens in a new window) as the new director of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS(link is external and opens in a new window)), and support her commitment to “turning research advances into health solutions faster.” While we see change happening across the nation including an ongoing search for a new director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to replace the stalwart leader Dr. Francis Collins - we remain committed to support translational scientists and their research teams here at Columbia University and Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC).

Teamwork and team science are foundational to our Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA(link is external and opens in a new window)) hub and are essential in advancing the field of clinical and translational science. Across our 13 resources that provide services and support to researchers at Columbia, we work with an interdisciplinary, team approach to build capacity and strengthen our collective impact.

Our newest resource, Team Expertise and Management Support (TEAMS), builds on lessons learned from our experience in implementing team science resources and processes that nurture our interdisciplinary clinical translational ecosystem and ensure that research findings produce meaningful and high-impact outcomes. 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 teams. FIT focuses on dimensions of team composition, communication, synergy, conflict management, and sustainability, and emphasizes support of team diversity and inclusion of underrepresented disciplines and groups. TEAMS supports collaborations to integrate diversity to maximize impact and fulfill goals of equity. Dr. Lee also co-leads a multi-institutional research team that was recently awarded a $400,000 National Science Foundation grant(link is external and opens in a new window) to study ethics, equity and collaboration in the design of genomics, neuroscience and artificial intelligence research. The grant will continue Dr. Lee's work and advance Columbia as a center for ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI) and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) team science.

Team building fosters diversity, leading to new thinking and new opportunities. Our newest committee, the STAR Ambassadors - or the Stakeholders in Translational Research - is a partnership between our CTSA members and ten upper Manhattan community leaders. The committee brings a community voice and focus to the translational research that we support at CUIMC. As an internal advisory group to the Irving Institute, the Ambassadors prioritize research of importance to the local community, and work with us to optimize approaches for research dissemination to the public. This continued teamwork with community builds on a long history of community participatory research, working with researchers to make sure that community concerns and interests are being incorporated.

Research teams have unique needs that we support through customized services and eight funding opportunities. We provide wraparound services for pilot awardees to address operational and translational barriers that teams encounter. We connect teams with collaborative consultations and cross-disciplinary faculty advisers to provide guidance on challenges including study design, recruitment, statistics, and analytic needs, as well as other project-specific needs that emerge.

I would like to highlight one of our eight funding opportunities, the Translational Therapeutics Accelerator (TRx) program. It plays a central role in translating the outstanding basic science discoveries at Columbia University into commercial therapeutics. The program’s goal is to help therapeutic innovations make it across the commercialization “valley of death” by giving innovator teams the resources they need. We partner with Columbia Technology Ventures, Accelerating Cancer Therapeutics (ACT), and Biomedical Engineering Technology Accelerator (BiomedX) to offer this comprehensive program. The program connects investigators with a team of advisors, consisting of industry mentors, a licensing officer, and program leadership who provide scientific guidance. By providing funding, education, commercialization expertise, and mentorship from entrepreneurs and pharmaceutical industry experts, we help investigators translate basic discoveries into products that help patients and transform healthcare.

We are excited to announce a new partnership with NYSPI/Columbia Psychiatry and the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (Columbia Engineering) to fund the Image-Guided Neuromodulation Pilot Award, which is a strategic special call for proposals. This new call follows a well-received spring 2022 Frontiers in Engineering and Medicine: Neuromodulation Symposium and will support innovative studies led by interdisciplinary teams aiming to modify the nervous system using emerging technologies and techniques that could spawn innovation and improve clinical care in areas such as substance use disorders, pain management, and Parkinson’s Disease, among others. I encourage researchers to apply to this new funding opportunity.

Collaborative team science is foundational to Irving Institute programs and in our strategic interdisciplinary initiatives with Columbia University partners. We look forward to continuing to accelerate translational research by supporting innovative and diverse teams on our campuses and with our upper Manhattan community.

My best wishes to you all this coming year,

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