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Bench to Bedside: Translational Science

On average, 24 years pass before a major scientific discovery makes its way from the laboratory to the patient. UT’s College of Pharmacy is working to speed up this process.

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Pictured are Kelly Daniels, Christopher Frei, assistant professor, and Julieta Scalo. Photo: Vicki Matustik

It takes an average of 24 years for a discovery in a scientist’s laboratory to become a medication at a patient’s bedside.

To speed up that process, the College of Pharmacy at The University of Texas at Austin and three other University of Texas System institutions have begun a Translational Science Ph.D. program to spur communication between the basic scientist and the physician and points in between.

“This program will lead to well-trained and uniquely prepared individuals who are able to mobilize scientific discoveries and apply them in ways that are helpful to patients,” said Christopher Frei, an assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy who is involved in the program.

It draws from the faculty and research resources of The University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy, UT San Antonio (UTSA) and UT Health Science Center, San Antonio. Each institution will grant the new degree. Also participating but not offering a degree is the UT School of Public Health, San Antonio Regional Campus.

There are about 20 translational science Ph.D. programs in the United States started as part of a six-year-old initiative by the National Institutes of Health to accelerate research and development.

The idea, said Dr. Michael Lichtenstein of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, is to get people out of their disciplinary silos and into a big tent.

The students can work in areas that include basic discovery, clinical research, health services, epidemiology, community-based participatory research and health policy research.

Julieta Scalo and Kelly Daniels, from the College of Pharmacy, are members of the first class of six students working in the program.

Daniels will study the prevention and treatment of health-care-associated infections, such as pneumonia and catheter-related bloodstream infections. Scalo will study oncology. She’s working on a project that investigates the treatment of sleep disturbances in cancer patients.

Before she enrolled in the doctor of pharmacy program at The University of Texas at Austin, Scalo was a human resources director and strategic analyst and saw the value of a multidisciplinary approach.

“Each expert with specialized knowledge has key insights and ideas,” she said, “and when these are coordinated and integrated successfully, the team’s productivity and creativity typically far exceeds the sum of its parts.”

Students have access to existing courses in the graduate programs at the four institutions as well as new courses and seminars that have been developed for the program.

“This allows participants to receive the best training from those most knowledgeable in the course content,” Daniels said. “The program also promotes collaboration with investigators from different research institutions.”

The program is open to faculty members and graduate students throughout UT Austin and the other institutions.

“After completing this Ph.D. program, I expect to be able to conduct original research on my own,” Scalo said. “Just as important, however, is that I expect to be able to develop effective and efficient collaborations with other researchers to accelerate the rate of progress in medical research.”