The journey from a researcher's petri dish to a patient's hospital bed can take years, if it happens at all. Federal health officials are so confident the University of Florida can help accelerate the process, they are awarding $26 million to the Gainesville research institution.
UF officials on Tuesday announced the five-year National Institutes of Health grant, which will fund a collaboration that is expected to boost economic development while improving the state's health care system — and UF's national reputation.
"Grants like this bring dollars from outside the region, outside the state, into Gainesville and the state, and that creates jobs," said Dr. David Guzick, senior vice president for health affairs and president of the UF & Shands Health System.
UF is the only university in Florida to secure the prestigious research opportunity. The NIH has given similar grants to 39 other institutions including Yale and Harvard since the federal initiative began three years ago.
The grant will support multidisciplinary research in fields such as gene therapy, aging and infectious diseases. The idea is to have researchers and experts from various fields working together from the beginning to ensure that medical discoveries can be used to treat patients as quickly as possible.
"There is a critical need to improve the way in which scientific discoveries are translated into practical applications for the treatment of human disease," said Dr. Peter W. Stacpoole, who will lead the research efforts through the UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute.
The initiative involves 12 of UF's 16 colleges in addition to the Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences, Shands HealthCare and the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System.
"The link between discovery and health is often left out," Guzick said. "One of the goals of NIH is to ensure that the research it funds will ensure the economic well-being of the nation. That's what this is about."
For example, Guzick said, researchers discovered the early makings of a vaccine for the HPV virus that causes cervical cancer. But turning that discovery into a widely available vaccine required clinical research and trials and a plan for overcoming initial public resistance through education and outreach.
The federal dollars come at a critical time for UF, the state's largest and oldest research institution. Like the state's other public universities, UF has faced tens of millions of dollars in budget cuts.
The grant is likely to help UF leverage other grants — funding discoveries that might lead to revenue-generating products and spinoff companies, said UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes.
Guzick said he saw the NIH grant's ripple effect at the University of Rochester, where he was dean of the medical school when it received a similar NIH grant in 2006.
"More jobs are developed, there's more of an eye toward technology and commercialization," he said. "That leads to building, and that helps the economy."
Shannon Colavecchio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.