APSA and ACTS collaborate for Advocacy Day 2014
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By Travis Hull, Jennifer M. Kwan, MD, PhD, and Aisha Siebert

APSA’s collaboration with the Association for Clinical and Translational Science (ACTS) this year aligned with career development and advocacy efforts important to physician scientists at all training stages. Activities included:

  1. Capitol Hill advocacy day to support biomedical research funding and translational research
  2. APSA’s Policy chair, Dr. Jennifer Kwan helped organize two informative sessions for the ACTS Annual meeting
    1. The ACTS/Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)/APSA: "How to Effectively Train in Translational Sciences" session explored training mechanisms that would be important for translational research. Panelists included Andrew Schafer MD (Weill Cornell) who provided an overview of the state of physician scientist training, Emma Meagher, MD (University of Pennsylvania) who provided insights in training at the K level, and Anthony Windebank MD (Mayo Clinic) who highlighted curricular mechanisms at the predoctoral level. Anh Chi Le, PhD (HHMI) provided lessons from the “Med to Grad” program as program director. The “Med to Grad” program provides clinical insights for translational research oriented basic scientists.
    2. The Academic Advancement for Translational Researchers Panel discussed challenges and changes in metrics to promote academic advancement for translational researchers. Panelists included Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Chief Scientific Officer Ann Bonham, PhD and faculty advancement leaders at the University of Michigan and The Ohio State University, who both shared experiences and successful examples of changes to their advancement criteria to encourage team science.

Meeting Highlights

Translational Science 2014 meeting  scientific presentation photo One of many sessions at Translational Science 2014 was the Academic Advancement
for Translational Researchers workshop.
Photo courtesy Jennifer M. Kwan

The Association for Clinical and Translational Science (ACTS) Annual meeting was held in Washington D.C. April 9-11 and was well attended by Clinical and Translational Science trainees at all stages of their career. Participants benefitted from NIH mock study sections, a grant writing workshop and plenty of eye opening speakers. Keynote speakers included:

  • Christopher Austin, MD - Director of the newly formed National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCAT) who spoke about the place for translational research in the changing US healthcare system
  • William W. Chin, MD - executive vice president of science and regulatory affairs at the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) who spoke about building public-private partnerships to advance pharmaceutical development
  • Victoria Seyfert-Margolis, PhD - CEO and founder of MyOwnMed a digital platform designed to capture between-visit patient health data.

Experiences on the Hill

The Capitol Hill Day visit afforded conference attendees the opportunity to meet with representatives from their State in the House and Senate to discuss the current state of biomedical funding. APSA members were invited to attend the Biomedical Advocacy Day. Experiences are featured below:

2014 ACTS-APSA-AFMR Advocacy Day photo APSA Policy Committee Member Aisha Siebert
(right) and Laura Shum, PhD student in the
Translational Biomedical Science Department at
the University of Rochester
Photo courtesy Laura Shum

Aisha Siebert, MSTP trainee at the University of Rochester, School of Medicine and Dentistry

This spring CTSI trainees convened in Washington DC to lobby for biomedical research and education. The US government is now interested in funding work that brings the many advances in scientific understanding to patient care. Amidst the grumblings of new requirements imposed upon an already tight funding environment, many scientists approach this subject with trepidation.

Surprisingly, the response on the Hill is one of general – albeit cautious – enthusiasm about a greater degree of transparency in research. Perhaps best articulated by Eric James Deeble, V.M.D. and Legislative Fellow to Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D, NY) lawmakers want to support scientific research but need the help of scientists to interpret the importance of their work for the lay-public. The push towards funding translational research fits well within this paradigm – programs such as the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) and NCATS invite patients into the conversation from inception of research projects, making them stakeholders in the outcomes of that work. The design sets up investigators to ask relevant scientific questions within the patient populations that will benefit most from the outcomes.

Next to the recent boom in outcomes research, many "basic" scientists still feel left out in the cold. The work is equally important in advancing understanding of human health – in fact many advances in current medical care came from studies that would not fit the traditional definition of translational science. How the desire for tangible health outcomes can be married to a fundamental understanding of biological processes remains to be seen, but a logical first step in forging this partnership is advocacy. In order to transition into the globally competitive market of applied science the US government needs to invest in training biomedical researchers who can facilitate this alliance, and onus is on the trainees.

Lawmakers need to hear about the experience of current trainees to personalize the large budget line item that funds NIH. The recent 5.1% cut means not only slimmer lab budgets, but also fewer opportunities for trainees looking to further their career in the US. Many graduates are going abroad or even choosing to put their scientific careers aside to pursue more stable work. This not only places a tremendous drain on the pool of future scientific researchers but also limits ability to adapt to the new demands that research have both scientific relevance and translational potential.

There is momentum on Capitol Hill. The America Cures Act introduced by Dick Durbin (D, IL) in March of this year calls for increases in funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Defense Health Program (DHP), and Veterans Medical & Prosthetics Research Program at a rate of GDP-indexed inflation, plus 5% to make up for the recent cuts. Those we spoke with seemed optimistic, but need buy in from the scientific community.

2014 ACTS-APSA-AFMR Advocacy Day photo on the steps of Capitol Hill APSA and ACTS members attend the Joint ACTS-APSA-AFMR Capitol Hill Biomedical Advocacy Day
Photo courtesy Jennifer M. Kwan

Travis Hull, MSTP trainee at the University of Alabama at Birmingham

Capital Hill Advocacy Day 2014 was sponsored by the Coalition for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS) as part of the annual meeting for the Association for Clinical and Translational Science (ACTS). This event was an outstanding opportunity for young trainees to explore the interface between biomedical research and the policy makers who fund it through allocation of taxpayer money to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) is a Center at the NIH that was created to establish a codified home for clinical and translational research efforts across the NIH. The NCATS funds approximately 60 Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) programs at academic medical institutions across the country. By awarding CTSA programs, the NCATS hopes to strengthen and support the entire spectrum of translational research to accelerate the process of translating scientific findings from bench to bedside. In addition, CTSA programs are intended to help a new generation of translational researchers attain the best training that is available. The CTSA program was established in 2006, at which time $750 million was decided upon as the annual amount necessary for program to achieve its highest potential. However, in fiscal year 2014, the CTSA was funded at only $475 million, dramatically limiting its ability to keep up with ever-increasing rate of inflation in science yet still realize its full potential within the scientific community.

The CCTS is a unified voice that advocates for the clinical and translation research communities by encouraging the government to allocate adequate financial support to biomedical research and the training of future translational scientists. At Hill Advocacy Day 2014, we spoke with congressional representatives about three broad issues that will directly influence the trajectory of scientific inquiry in the United States both immediately and for decades into the future. The first recommendation that we advanced on behalf of CCTS was to request that congress eliminate sequestration entirely, due to its significant threat to scientific inquiry in the US. In addition, we conveyed the importance of increasing the budget allocated annually to NIH by 6%, which would allow for the CTSA program to increase its budget to $500 million in FY2015. Lastly, we requested that Congress increase their support for “K” and “T” award programs at NIH to ensure that the US continues to be a good place for young investigators to pursue their scientific training and to start their career.

Participation in Hill Advocacy Day 2014 was highly rewarding and particularly eye opening. Congressional decision making regarding the appropriation of funds to the NIH and its Centers such as NCATS will affect the culture and climate of biomedical research for decades to come. Currently, we appear to be at a cross roads wherein the US cannot continue to lead the world in biomedical discovery unless our government recognizes and comes to action on the importance of biomedical research and translational science. Generally speaking, the representatives that we met with stressed their support for clinical and translation research. However, a solution to the problems that currently face researchers in the United States was not so forthcoming. Our representatives are interested in hearing how the current difficulties in appropriations to biomedicine are directly affecting trainees. Therefore, it is important for our generation of aspiring physician-scientists to continuing to advocate for our profession.