SC CTSI Boosts Translational Research At USC And CHLA

SC CTSI facilitates multidisciplinary collaboration resulting in bone implants prototypes to help patients.

March 20, 2012

During a 20-minute break between surgeries, David Skaggs, a surgeon at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and professor at the USC Keck School of Medicine,  quickly rushed into a packed conference room to meet his team of researchers. 

The topic of the meeting: unveiling the prototypes of his newly patented invention – temporary bone implants for use in pediatric and adult scoliosis patients undergoing treatment for painful spine infections.

David Skaggs

The team came together as the result of a multidisciplinary collaboration made possible by the USC-based Southern California Clinical and Translational Science Institute (SC CTSI). 

The institute gives researchers at USC and CHLA the resources needed to conduct clinical or translational research – the process of moving discoveries down the research pipeline and into clinical and community health settings. It also expedites the often-lengthy process by providing services that help investigators across all USC schools and disciplines to translate research into practical health solutions.

“SC CTSI plays a vital role in building multidisciplinary research teams across the university and the community, and provides researchers with tools and resources that move their ideas and projects forward,” said Randolph Hall, vice president of research at USC.

In order to encourage and facilitate health-related research, SC CTSI offers researchers critical support, offering more than $1 million per year in funding opportunities for career development, academic-community partnered research, development of novel methods or technologies, team-building activities and pilot clinical or translational research.

Anh Le, a professor at the USC Ostrow School of Dentistry, took advantage of the funding. “SC CTSI funding allowed us to develop preliminary data that we used to successfully secure both a $50,000 Zumberge Award and a $3 million research grant,” Le said.

Clinically trained faculty members interested in formal training and a career in clinical and translational research can take advantage of a two-year KL2 mentored research career development program. Predoctoral students have access to similar training through the institute’s two-year TL1 clinical and translational training award.

One of the biggest challenges faced by researchers is navigating the complex regulatory landscape. SC CTSI offers consultations and administrative support to help investigators obtain crucial regulatory approvals, and guides investigators as they anticipate and respond to ethical issues in all phases of the research process.

The SC CTSI provides biostatistical and bioinformatics support to help investigators translate research questions into sound approaches to study design, data collection and data analysis. Training in the use of a free, secure Web application known as REDCap, which supports data capture and data management, also is available through the institute.

For investigators engaged in preclinical discovery, the institute helps investigators assess the feasibility of their studies and then works with them to develop and manage customized project plans. In Skaggs’ case, the institute collaborated with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, consulted with a network of industry advisors, and matched Skaggs with USC Viterbi School of Engineering materials scientist Bo Han, who was instrumental in developing the bone implant prototypes.

The SC CTSI also helped Skaggs with regulatory and commercialization strategies and assisted him with finding sources of funding, some of which came directly from the institute.

“Surgeons have good ideas all the time, but they are so busy, the ideas are rarely brought to fruition,” he said. “I am so appreciative to have a group of researchers and experts in product development available. The ‘brain trust’ SC CTSI so quickly assembled is impressive.

“The expertise and enthusiasm of the group made this invention better and develop faster than a surgical team could ever have done working in isolation, and patients will ultimately benefit,” he added. “I suspect that this team will be coming out with bigger and better projects in the future.”

For clinical researchers, the SC CTSI offers study feasibility and design consultations, preliminary budget development and administrative support. It also provides access to skilled research nurses, laboratory tests and clinical research space on the USC Health Sciences campus and at Children’s Hospital. In addition, the institute pairs USC faculty members with community partners and offers community-engaged research training and individual consultations.

At the opposite end of the translational spectrum from Skaggs’ project was one in which the SC CTSI helped L.A. Care, the nation’s largest public health plan, evaluate a novel way to help patients gain access to specialty medical care.

The eConsult program allows primary care providers to obtain online consultations for patients instead of face-to-face meetings.

An evaluation revealed that patients using eConsult received specialty care more quickly and efficiently than through in-person appointments. The program is being expanded to community health centers throughout Los Angeles County, including Department of Health Services clinics, as well as CalOptima and Medi-Cal services in San Diego.

“A big misconception that people have about clinical and translational research is that only lab scientists and clinicians hold the answers to scientific questions, but that’s just not the case,” said SC CTSI director Thomas A. Buchanan. “We rely on a range of expertise, from scientists and humanists to artists and business professionals, to inform health research. The institute promotes scientific advancement by bridging that wide range of expertise.”

One example of multidisciplinary collaboration would be of artists, engineers, psychiatrists and physicians designing a new intervention to help patients cope with a particular illness. Such a project is more effective with multidisciplinary collaboration than without.

In order to utilize the expertise at USC, the institute is undertaking research team-building efforts. Some of the efforts include hosting topic-focused networking sessions and theme-focused “speed dating” designed to match investigators with specific clinical challenges to those who have technological solutions.

The SC CTSI is one of 60 premier research institutes in a national consortium that aims to speed the translation of research discoveries into health solutions. Supported by a $56.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, the institute unites leading Southern California academic, clinical and community health organizations. Together, they identify major regional health problems and offer researchers the support needed to develop creative solutions for those problems.

In just one and a half years since the SC CTSI first secured its grant, it successfully has embedded itself along the often-lengthy research pipeline – boosting translational research at every step.

Back in the conference room, Skaggs rotated the small bone implants in his fingertips and began listing specification changes needed to render the implants clinically viable. The team listened attentively and provided feedback.

“Anything else?” Skaggs asked. Hearing no further comments, he thanked everyone and excused himself to prepare for another surgery for a child with scoliosis.

The original article was published on

NIH Funding Acknowledgment: Important - All publications resulting from the utilization of SC CTSI resources are required to credit the SC CTSI grant by including the NIH funding acknowledgment and must comply with the NIH Public Access Policy.