Georgia CTSA Coordinating Center Shares Vast Resources with Investigator

headshot of investigator

‘One quick question’ was the reason Robert Meller, DPhil, Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Pharmacology, Morehouse School of Medicine, initially contacted the Georgia CTSA. Dr. Meller was preparing a grant proposal for a research project testing a new technology for the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. His question led to discovering a wealth of Georgia CTSA resources available to support the National Institute of Aging / National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities grant he applied for and received.  

Dr. Meller’s initial question regarding data sharing was directed to Karen Lindsley, RN, and manager of Georgia CTSA’s Coordinating Center and Studio Consultation. Lindsley provided copies of the CTSA’s data use agreements that encompass Emory, MSM, UGA, Georgia Tech, and Children’s. She then shared with Dr. Meller additional CTSA resources available to investigators, including assistance with biostatistics, epidemiology, research design, informatics, regulatory support and ethics consultations. The Coordinating Center serves as a front door to expedite an investigator’s use of Georgia CTSA’s extensive resources.

For Dr. Meller’s specific grant application, support was provided in multiple areas. Georgia CTSA assisted in navigating the project through IRB approvals from both Emory School of Medicine and Morehouse School of Medicine. In collaboration with Georgia Tech, Georgia CTSA can provide bioinformatics support to the project, and experts for consultation on the ethical areas of genomic research.

“We have many resources to remove roadblocks and facilitate grants for researchers. It is exciting to assist investigators like Dr. Meller in discovering all the tools we can provide to support their grant applications and expedite their research,” says Lindsley.

One such tool that Dr. Meller utilized in his grant application is a formal letter of support from Georgia CTSA. The letter emphasizes the benefits of a cross-institutional research effort that leverages the infrastructure of collaborating institutions to promote efficient and effective research. This research is then supported by an alliance to translate laboratory discoveries into early and less invasive diagnostics, treatment and prevention. The letter highlighted four main areas of CTSA support for Dr. Meller’s study: Biostatistics, Epidemiology & Research Design; Informatics; Regulatory Knowledge & Support; and the Recruitment Center. Each of these areas can assist in the successful implementation of a research study, from initial research protocols through design, informatics, participant recruitment, and ethics consulting.

Dr. Meller’s research project is focused on using blood RNA expression levels to assess the presence and change of biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, these biomarkers are assessed in cerebrospinal fluid (csf), but the assaying of csf can include both risk and discomfort to patients. Dr. Meller’s study would measure whether blood transcriptomes can discriminate Alzheimer’s disease patients from controls with a greater accuracy than csf-based biomarkers.

The study will also determine the impact of a novel African American pan-genome to enhance test accuracy, and consider the impact of race, using a novel ancestry approach from RNA sequence data. The overall approach has the potential to improve the accuracy of Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis. A blood test for Alzheimer’s disease would enable earlier detection of pre-clinical Alzheimer’s, allowing for treatment of the mechanism of the disorder prior to onset of symptoms.

Of his study and working with the Georgia CTSA, Dr. Meller remarks, “I really wish I had known about the Georgia CTSA five or six years ago because they are such a wealth of support. It has been invaluable to me having access to experts who can provide timely, effective information. In addition, the CTSA has already done the work to create the data sharing agreements and the connections between the alliance members so we can bypass roadblocks and more quickly move forward with our research.”

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.