Georgia CTSA Clinical Research Centers Celebrate 60th Anniversary

"The Georgia Clinical and Translational Science Alliance (Georgia CTSA) Clinical Research Center (GCRC) sites welcome clinical investigators from all academic levels and disciplines. We stand ready to facilitate the use of our resources for pilot projects, single-center and multicenter trials, and other clinical research, including industry, foundation, and federally-funded research," says Thomas Ziegler, MD.

May 1, 2020, marks the 60th anniversary of the GCRC at Emory University Hospital (EUH). According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the General Clinical Research Centers Program was established in 1960 to “enhance and increase the national level of clinical research into the diseases of man and his fundamental biological conditions and problems.” The Emory University School of Medicine received its initial funding in May 1960 as 1 of 8 institutions to receive an award to set up a clinical research center. As the only institution in the south receiving a grant, Emory’s selection by NIH marked a significant step in establishing the university as a major clinical research center in the U.S.

The General Clinical Research Center at Emory University Hospital (EUH) opened in January 1961 with 10 beds and soon expanded to 16. At the end of its first year, a total of 20 separate research projects had been initiated. Projects included studies of the metabolism of chemical substances, such as amino acids, steroids, minerals, salts, and new drugs for a variety of diseases. Health considerations included cirrhosis of the liver, collagen disorders, muscular dystrophy, kidney function, diseases of the thyroid and adrenal glands, congestive heart disease, and Wilson's disease. The center was also used for studies of the effects of psychic trauma on acute porphyria and studies of steroid therapy on the function of the pituitary and adrenal glands.

Today, the GCRC units serve as the foundation for Georgia CTSA-supported human subjects research, with sites at Emory University (EUH and EUH-Midtown), Morehouse School of Medicine, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Grady Memorial Hospital, and the University of Georgia (UGA).  The sites provide an environment for conducting the highest quality human subjects clinical and translational research through a statewide integrated network of sites offering a comprehensive array of resources that includes dedicated space and high-quality research nursing, lab, bionutrition, exercise physiology, and study coordinator services. The GCRC system’s overall Program Director is Dr. Colleen Kraft, MD, MSc.

In 2019, the GCRCs had 147 active studies across all six sites and supported 93 individual PIs. Medical specialties include endocrinology, infectious diseases, digestive diseases, cardiology, rheumatology, pulmonary, neurology, and nephrology. Additional areas of focus are psychiatry, genetics, pathology, otolaryngology, and OB/GYN research. During the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014, the EUH GCRC site provided research space and infrastructure for the Ebola-infected patients treated by Dr. Kraft and other members of the Ebola care team.

Major projects currently supported by the GCRCs include a universal flu vaccine study at the UGA site with over 450 individuals already enrolled, the "All of Us" project, an NIH sponsored program to gather data from one million or more people to accelerate research and improve health, and the prospective Center for Health Discovery and Well Being cohort of the Emory/Georgia Tech Predictive Health Institute. Most recently, GCRC nurses and staff are supporting COVID-19 research studies in offsite locations.

Thomas Ziegler, MD, Professor of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, Division of Endocrinology & Metabolism and site-specific Director of the Georgia CTSA Clinical Research Center at EUH remarks, “In 1999, I started in administrative roles as the assistant director of the Emory University Hospital clinical research unit and have been the site-specific director of the unit for about 15 years.”

Highlighting GCRC’s major scientific impacts over the past 60 years, Dr. Ziegler comments “In the early days of our unit during the 1960s, we supported investigators doing comprehensive metabolic and nutrition studies in a variety of disorders, as well as studies related to different operative techniques to treat hepatic failure. The unit was instrumental in studies of inborn errors of metabolism, developing medical foods, and other treatments for children born with PKU and similar diseases. We supported landmark studies in Parkinson’s disease using deep brain stimulation. Large multicenter trials relating to hypertension and chronic kidney diseases and other common chronic diseases were also supported. Leading up to the more recent years, we’ve supported numerous studies involving mechanisms of depression, therapies for diabetes, studies in nutrition and metabolism in patients with obesity, cystic fibrosis, and other conditions, and most recently, efforts related to Ebola and COVID infection.”

Dr. Ziegler has worked at Emory for 26 years and uses the GCRC resources for his ongoing nutrition-oriented clinical research. “Investigators using the GCRC have significantly benefited from the resources provided at our six major clinical sites. The specific resources that have greatly helped me and other faculty with their clinical research include the experienced research nursing support, bionutrition and body composition laboratory resources, specimen processing, exercise testing, and other key resources,” adds Ziegler.

“The GCRC offers the use of its inpatient and outpatient research units, staff, space, equipment, study coordinator support, help with study initiation, budgets, and other resources. We continue to support a large cadre of junior, mid-level, and senior investigators and offer an opportunity for training for a large number of students, fellows, and study coordinators to provide the best science to facilitate clinical investigation.”

Later this year, the GCRC at Emory University Hospital will be hosting an Open House to celebrate its 60th anniversary. Tour and info sessions will be scheduled throughout the day in addition to prize giveaways and refreshments. For more information about the GCRCs and services provided, visit this site.

Georgia CTSA’s multi-site Georgia CTSA Clinical Research Centers (GCRCs) is a multilayered, flexible, and geographically distributed network created to meet the needs of translational and clinical investigators from Emory University, MSM, UGA, Georgia Tech, and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (Children’s). The GCRCs offers dedicated space and a variety of resources ranging from core laboratory services to a bionutrition unit to support the research process at a subsidized cost. Clinical sites, including nursing services, are located at Emory University HospitalGrady Memorial HospitalUGAMSMChildren’s, and Emory University Midtown.

The Georgia CTSA is a statewide partnership between Emory, MSM, Georgia Tech, and UGA and is one of over 60 in a national consortium striving to improve the way biomedical research is conducted across the country. The consortium, funded through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) and the National Institutes of Health's Clinical and Translational Science Awards, shares a common vision to translate laboratory discoveries into treatments for patients, engage communities in clinical research efforts, and train the next generation of clinical investigators. For more information, visit