|Need a Clearer Roadmap?|
Having a great idea for a research project is one thing – convincing a study section yours is one worth funding is quite another. That’s where a free consult with a Research Navigator at the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Science (NC TraCS) Institute may be time well spent.
NC TraCS is home to UNC’s NIH Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA), a nationwide consortium whose mission is to accelerate the pace of translating discoveries into patient therapies and community interventions. One way it does this is by offering the free services of Research Navigators.
Research Navigators help investigators shape research questions in proposals, find potential collaborators, identify funding opportunities, determine whether they should apply for NC TraCS pilot funding, provide another set of eyes on a proposal before submission or even rework a proposal that did not receive funding. They work with investigators submitting to NIH, but also those submitting to other foundations and agencies. Investigators may be junior faculty members, senior ones looking to change direction, clinicians or community members.
They also mentor investigators who receive NC TraCS pilot funding. They touch base at several points during the year funding cycle to help work through roadblocks and to help them leverage pilot results into extramural funding. Just since early 2010 the Navigators have closely followed 310 pilot grants in this way. They also will meet with any investigator whose application for a pilot grant does not receive funding and help them reshape it for resubmission, if they request it.
In sum, Navigators are seasoned researchers who have been through the process many times themselves, as well as having experience serving on national study sections. So, they can take a fresh look at proposals and give investigators constructive feedback. They know about the cores and services across the university and see their job as literally helping investigators find resources and find their way to successful funding.
There currently are four Navigators at NC TraCS, three employed 50% and one 25% of the time, while continuing their own research and faculty roles. Patricia Byrns, M.D., who also served as associate dean, UNC School of Medicine, retired in June. Each focuses on working with investigators on a particular point along the translational continuum, though there is some overlap and flexibility. Paul Farel, Ph.D., advises on basic science research; Tom Egan, M.D., M.Sc., on bench-to-bedside research; Rich Davis, M.D., on bedside-to-practice; and Sue Tolleson-Rinehart, Ph.D., on practice-to-policy.
Davis said he asks these questions when working with an investigator:
1. Is this research translational?
2. Is it novel enough to get funded?
3. Are all the elements together for a successful research project?
4. How much support do they have from their department chair?
5. What is their relationship with their mentor?
“The biggest challenge is to identify those TraCS members who would really benefit from our help and who are more likely to be successful,” said Davis.
“These days with the emphasis on translational medicine [at NIH], there is much more of a requirement that basic scientists show that their work can be used to improve human health,” said Farel. “A lot of my job is working with basic scientists and encouraging them to think of their work in a more clinical context.”
“I see us as being two-way conduits from the faculty who consume TraCS’ services to the TraCS leadership. In reverse, we are very often the public face of the TraCS leadership to an individual researcher who comes in,” said Tolleson-Rinehart. “We are also advocates for translational research and evaluators of it. We’re uniquely positioned to think in the broadest and the most transdisciplinary terms, because the Navigators are not housed within a given core.”
The Navigators have recently undertaken a new initiative to facilitate translational research and funding for it. New NC TraCS librarian Rachel Lerner is identifying requests for proposals by funding agencies and bringing them to the Navigators’ weekly meeting. They are then working to identify appropriate potential investigators or teams of investigators at UNC who may want to consider applying.
Egan also has participated in a series of workshops aimed at bringing together basic scientists and clinicians. In these workshops – on topics such as transplantation, cardiovascular diseases or technologies in microfluidics – clinicians have an opportunity to let basic scientists know about clinical problems affecting patient care and, in turn, learn what tools basic scientists can bring to bear. Another series of lectures are underway to highlight different techniques and technologies available on the UNC campus.
“People have a tendency to think that we’re sort of a portal for people into TraCS, and in many respects we are, but that’s not all that we do,” said Egan with a smile.
How to Reach a Navigator
You have three options for reaching a Research Navigator, all through TraCS Central:
1. Call 919-966-6022 or 1-866-705-4931, M-F, 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. You will speak with Karen Demby, TraCS Central Coordinator, who will listen to your query and determine which Navigator can best meet your needs.
3. Go to the website: http://tracs.unc.edu and use any of these four home page buttons on the right:
• Need a navigator?
• Request a consult
• Become a Member (yes, you should do this if you haven’t)
|By Elizabeth Witherspoon|