A $100 million grant has been given to a dozen top universities on Tuesday by the government in order to set up a network that would hasten scientific discoveries towards better health care thereby trying to transform how medical research is done.
This idea came about because of the increased specialization in medicine which has made it more difficult than ever for scientists from different fields to share the information that would convert laboratory discoveries into new treatments which would reach the offices of private doctors. Besides this the competitive arena of scientific research among universities has led to the birth of this idea.
As a result the National Institute of Health created a national consortium of universities which are supposed to cooperate instead, removing barriers towards turning medical research into health care reality.
Tuesday's announcement of $100 million was the down payment. The NIH plans to have 60 academic health centers on board by 2012, hoping to provide them with a total of $500 million a year.
According to NIH Director Elias Zerhouni the network is crucial in an era of burgeoning technology, including almost daily discoveries of the genetic underpinnings of disease.
He said, "We need to accelerate the way we ... bring all these discoveries from the bench to the bedside and make sure they reach the people."
For instance Zerhouni noted that it took a 10-year study to overturn the long held belief that hormone replacement therapy after menopause was beneficial for women's overall health, while in fact the drugs increased women's risk of breast cancer, strokes and heart attacks. With the new research network, large university hospitals can pool their patients to spot medication side effects - or fill studies of rare diseases or new drugs - far faster than today.
Dr. David Kessler, dean of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, part of the network said that the project will require an overhaul for universities steeped in the tradition of a lone scientist plugging away in a laboratory.
Kessler, former head of the Food and Drug Administration with his experience about the regulatory hurdles towards creating new therapies, said, 'We're talking about creating a new breed of scientist. Right now there are not enough people who are pursuing research that connects the dots between what is done in our basic science labs and what can directly benefit patients.'
In addition to developing new treatments the NIH network will fund much needed research to understand why doctors and patients don't follow proven strategies - such as why the drugs proven to best control blood pressure and cholesterol are vastly underused.
It has been reported that the first 12 network participants will be funded for five years, for a total of about $700 million.