University of California San Francisco’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) received $85 million over five years from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue to provide training, research support and other services, and to launch new programs aimed at diversifying the patients in research and advancing precision medicine.

“Over the past 10 years, our CTSI has been focused on accelerating research to improve health,” said Jennifer Grandis, MD, associate vice chancellor of clinical and translational research and CTSI director. “We are committed to using these valuable NIH resources to help all UCSF investigators and trainees further that goal.”

The new efforts seek to remove barriers to using electronic medical records and emerging technologies, so research can be conducted more efficiently and in a broadly representative patient population, while ensuring that it is done securely and with informed consent. These efforts are also aimed at helping researchers, who may not be experts in technology, integrate high-tech tools into their work so they can take advantage of many different types of data – from the biological to the social and behavioral, and at the individual and population level.

With the new grant, CTSI will launch an effort to include more diverse participants in research, including children, the elderly and socially and medically vulnerable populations. These groups have a higher burden of disease, in part because of their greater exposure to social and environmental risks, yet they have been underrepresented in research. The initiative, led by Dean Schillinger, MD, professor of medicine, will promote research across the lifespan and expand research networks to reach more diverse populations.

Another new effort focuses on precision health. CTSI will offer specialized training and create a comprehensive biospecimen resources program, so patients can give informed consent to researchers to use specimens collected during clinical care. A new virtual biobank will ensure these specimens are stored and catalogued in a way that makes them accessible to researchers throughout the university.

“Our overarching goal in precision medicine is to enable data-driven, mechanism-based health and healthcare for each individual,” said Scott VandenBerg, MD, PhD, a professor of pathology who is heading the biobanking initiative. “To do this, we need a richly annotated, centralized, searchable, web-based biospecimen database that can be integrated with population level and other research data, as well as with electronic health records.”