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Collaborative project wins multimillion-dollar NIH grant

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Print this page by Tim Thornton
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“We’re already thinking now about the next application,” says Michael Friedlander.
Photo by Don Petersen

A collaborative project involving Virginia universities and health systems has scored a major coup.

The project partners, known as the integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia (iTHRIV), won a nearly $23 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health. The members of iTHRIV include Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, Inova Health System and Carilion Clinic.

The grant will fund research throughout the health-care delivery chain.

“It’s the whole enchilada,” Michael Friedlander says, “from discovery in a laboratory … to the first research studies in humans … to the next level where it’s done in the larger population and introduced into the health-care system.”

Friedlander is vice president of health sciences and technology at Virginia Tech and executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute.

“For us this is particularly exciting,” he says. “As a young, growing and almost a startup academic health center enterprise here in Roanoke, we’ve just stepped into the big leagues.”

The grant also pays for training clinical and translational scientists and involving the community in improving health care. This work won’t be done “in ivory towers at our institutions,” Friedlander says. “We partner with the public, and I mean public organizations — advocacy organizations for various disorders, whether it be addiction … heart disease … brain injury or breast cancer … They actually help us design studies.”

The community will also benefit, Friedlander says, from having “access to an improved health system that itself has access to the most innovative concepts, technologies and ideas that are being evaluated right here.”

Discussions among the iTHRIV partners began more than two years ago. They started working on coordination and data sharing a year and a half before the grant’s approval.
The Fralin Institute is building a 139,000-square-foot building to accommodate an additional 25 research teams, nearly doubling the number of teams at the institute. This new influx of money, research and attention will make the institute even more attractive to researchers, Friedlander says, which will help the regional economy.

“It helps us get the best and the brightest,” he says. The money helps retain these researchers who bring their talents, discoveries and in some cases, spin off companies to the community.

The competition for these grants is fierce, and winning a grant doesn’t mean the end of the contest, at least not if an institution wants another round of grants to continue its programs.

“We’re already thinking now about the next application,” Friedlander says.





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