Translational Research Center at Arkansas Children’s Research Institute Receives $11.5 Million

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded $11.5 million in Phase II funding to the Arkansas Children’s Research Institute (ACRI) based on the successes of the Center for Translational Pediatric Research (CTPR), established five years ago. The center applies a cutting-edge systems biology approach to understand how diseases like cancer form in children’s developing bodies.

Under the leadership of Alan Tackett, PhD, associate director for basic research at ACRI and director of the CTPR, the center is at the forefront of this type of research.

“We believe that research performed in this center will not only generate scientific knowledge and new technologies for studying disease formation but also will impact future clinical care by leading to the discovery of new treatment strategies translatable to the pediatric population,” said Tackett, who is a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) College of Medicine and the deputy director of the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.

The NIH established the Institutional Development Awards (IDeA) to create world-class environments for new and established researchers, especially in states with historically low levels of NIH funding. The receipt of Phase II funding indicates that NIH believes the CTPR is on a trajectory to become one of the nation’s premier sites for translational research impacting the pediatric population. A total of 15 years of funding is available through this federal program.

“During the past five years, we supported 13 junior faculty who received approximately $22 million of federal funding, demonstrating our commitment to, and progress towards, becoming a self-sustaining research center,” Tackett said. “Our successes in Phase I have set the stage for substantial growth to create a self-sustaining research center focusing on developing the next generation of therapies to treat diseases impacting children.”

Researchers in the center have obtained funding from agencies including the NIH, USDA, American Heart Association, Department of Defense, and American Cancer Society.

The CTPR includes partners from the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center, UAMS, and the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.

“We will focus on studying cancers impacting, or translatable to, the pediatric population, strengthening a partnership between ACRI and the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute,” Tackett said.

As the CTPR moves into the next five years of funding, it will develop a new Proteogenomics Resource for providing center investigators access to skilled personnel for answering complex systems biology questions using data analysis and computational approaches.

“We are incredibly excited for the second phase of the CPTR program given the success during the first phase under Dr. Tackett’s leadership,” said Arkansas Children’s Research Institute President Pete Mourani, MD, also a professor of pediatrics in the UAMS College of Medicine. “The CPTR serves as a tremendous resource for investigators applying systems biology methodologies to innovatively tackle the challenges we face in delivering a healthier tomorrow for our children. We are proud it’s developed into a premier training platform that serves to augment the pipeline of new investigators to achieve the critical mass of skill researchers required to enhance the speed of discovery and provide the unprecedented care our children deserve.”

Systems biology brings together biology, computer science, bioinformatics, and other disciplines to determine how systems change over time and under varying conditions. Big data-generating approaches like genomic sequencing and proteomics have gained tremendous traction in the past decade for producing data to fuel systems biology studies. As these approaches can produce enormous amounts of data, researchers are often bottlenecked with data analysis and integration. The CTPR provides innovative and cutting-edge resources, and a bioinformatics framework, for data analysis and integration to center members, which supports their studies on diseases children face.

ACRI has supported the CTPR with funding from the Arkansas Biosciences Institute, which was created as the major research component set forth in the Tobacco Settlement Proceeds Act of 2000.