College is part of Penn State group to receive $27.3 million NIH grant

July 12, 2011

Penn State, the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, and the Penn State College of Medicine have won a $27.3 million, five-year award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) designed to accelerate the translation of scientific findings into methods for improving public health. The competitive Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) will support the Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI).

"The CTSI will bring together researchers from across Penn State, and it will connect these researchers with clinicians and community members with the goal of developing new approaches to promoting health and preventing disease," said Susan McHale, a professor of human development and family studies and a lead investigator responsible for winning the grant. "Today, Americans are less healthy than citizens of other developed countries even though the U.S. spends substantially more on health care. And, our nation's health care costs continue to skyrocket even as rates of chronic disease increase. The CTSI aims to address this exceedingly complex human and social challenge." 

McHale's role in the project will be to facilitate communication and collaboration among researchers, clinicians, and community members who, she said, have distinct and important perspectives on how to promote health and prevent disease, but rarely have opportunities to learn from one another. "By working together we can address one of the greatest challenges we face as a nation, and we also can promote new ways of thinking and working through educating the next generation of health researchers and clinicians."

McHale isn't the only person in the College of Health and Human Development (HHD) who will be involved. According to Neil Sharkey, associate dean for research and graduate education, HHD is the CTSI's preeminent contributor at University Park due to its focus on improving quality of life, particularly its strength in biobehavioral research aimed at enhancing human health and well-being. "Several HHD investigators will be playing prominent roles in a very ambitious agenda designed to improve the health and healthcare of all Pennsylvanians," he said.

The Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) program's goals are to speed the translation of laboratory discoveries into treatments for patients, to engage communities in clinical research efforts, and to train a new generation of clinical and translational researchers.

"There have been some complaints at the federal level that the results of NIH-funded projects have not been adequately translated to the bedside to treat patients," said Sharkey. "This grant will enable Penn State researchers to focus attention on accelerating the pace at which basic science discoveries are applied in a clinical setting to benefit patients. We are particularly interested in facilitating the flow of scientific information into rural communities in Pennsylvania."

The NIH announced on June 14 that Penn State is among five organizations selected in this final round of initial awards of the CTSA program, which provides support to organizations with the demonstrated commitment and expertise necessary to deliver on the promise of improved health, and one of only three in Pennsylvania to receive a CTSA since the program’s inception in 2006.

The Penn State CTSI will focus specifically on finding solutions to problems in the areas of children’s health, cancer, and behavioral health. Using state Tobacco Settlement Funds and other public funding, the CTSI has provided seed money to 42 Penn State research projects that demonstrate real potential for progress in these and other areas.

Specifically, the grant supports new or expanded research infrastructure, such as the College of Health and Human Development's General Clinical Research Center, which provides research infrastructure for investigators who conduct research intended to treat or prevent conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. The grant also supports research faculty and staff salaries and educational programs to encourage students to enter fields related to clinical and translational science. Through the CTSI, Penn State also will initiate new degree programs in translational research, where students pursuing graduate degrees in such varied disciplines as nursing, medicine, biology, informatics, or engineering can receive training in translational research as well. Certificates, master’s degree programs, and dual-title Ph.D.s are all part of the new curriculum.

The CTSI also will create opportunities for two-way communication with members of the community to learn what progress is being made and to share their insight into which health issues biomedical researchers should study.

"Not only will we be working with hospitals and clinics to take discoveries and turn them into practice, but we also will be working with practitioners to find out what topics are important to them, so we can meet their needs," said Sharkey.

The CTSA grant funding started on June 1 and runs through February 2016.

To learn more about the Penn State CTSI, visit and to learn more about the NIH’s CTSA program, visit online.

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Neil Sharkey:
Susan McHale:

Editors: For additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at 814-865-3831 or