The University of Kentucky announced Tuesday that it has received $20 million from the National Institutes of Health for five years of specialized research.
The clinical and translational research financed by the award emphasizes linking research and medical practice so that laboratory advances become available to patients as treatment more quickly.
The $20 million is thought to be one of the largest health grants in UK history.
UK will become the only Kentucky organization with the NIH Clinical Translational Science Award designation.
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"It's more than money," said Michael Karpf, UK's executive vice president for health administration.
With the NIH emphasis on clinical translation, it is seeking opportunities to create centers of excellence, Karpf said.
"This grant is recognition by the NIH that we are one of the places" in the upper tier of medical institutions that can do clinical translation.
Kumble Subbaswamy, UK's provost, said, "Without the NIH award, any notion that we would become an NIH top 20 university would simply ring hollow."
Karpf and Subbaswamy said two other health care designations that UK is awaiting will boost UK's status even further. An accreditation renewal is expected for the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging in July, and a review of the Markey Cancer Center for a National Cancer Institute designation is expected in November.
Having the three designations in hand, Karpf said, "puts us with the big boys."
Such goals are not being pursued just for their prestige, Subbaswamy said.
The distinctions are "not just for bragging rights, but for improving the lives of Kentuckians."
Dr. Philip Kern, associated provost for clinical and translational science, will be the principal investigator for the clinical translation program.
The program will "break down the silos between scientists, clinicians and humans," Kern said.
"It's always astounding how we don't deliver care ... to those that need it the most," he said.
UK's translational work integrates the school's strengths in treating cancer, heart disease and diabetes with its research specialties in pharmaceutical sciences and biomedical engineering to develop new drugs and medical devices, Kern said.
UK also has helped develop the Appalachian Translational Research Network along with Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va.; Ohio State University; the University of Cincinnati and regional academic institutions.
UK has also entered into a formal partnership with Marshall to finance research based on that university's expertise in genomics (the study of gene structure and sequences), rural medicine and cancer research.
Said Karpf: "Not every academic medical center is going to be a major player in the long haul."
UK's overall research budget topped $300 million for the first time in 2010, with $128 million in grants and contracts from the National Institutes of Health leading the way. Other major federal grants and contracts came from the National Science Foundation ($25.2 million), the Department of Energy ($13.3 million) and the Department of Commerce ($12.5 million).