See more of the story

The University of Minnesota announced Thursday one of the largest federal grants in its history, $54 million, that will transform how it can hasten medical research into everyday clinical use.

The U's Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) has subsisted on federal funding for a decade, but the renewal application was different this time — requiring that recipients make deeper connections with surrounding communities, and evaluating their success by whether they improve health in those communities.

"This is different," said Dr. Bruce Blazar, CTSI's director. "We have to measure impact. It's not the number of publications anymore. It's, 'How have you impacted health?' That is one of the fundamental criteria."

The institute is one of 60 in the United States supported by federal funding to expedite research discoveries into clinical care.

Blazar said the institute will use the new direction to build on its successes, which include the recent discovery of metformin as an available, low-cost therapy for long COVID-19.

Researchers at the institute also piloted a telemedicine support option for kids with autism, and developed immune-boosting therapies for patients with colon cancer.

Federal grant money will fund coordinators to connect with minority and rural communities with limited health care access to identify their needs and gain their trust and participation in research.

"How do we figure out what the rural communities need?" Blazar said. "How do we give them a voice ... so they can be heard and we can tailor our approach to their needs?"

The funding also provides an opportunity to "course correct," he said, and address the history of institutional racism and research abuses that has discouraged minority interest in preventive health care and medical research.

Problems such as the elevated stroke rate among African Americans have persisted because of this disconnect, he said. Blazar also recalled how the discovery of the genetic predisposition to gout in the Hmong community was slowed by the lack of connection between researchers and members of that community.

"Why would they trust us?" Blazar said. "So building this up is important."

In addition to the seven-year grant, U leaders expect to receive another $10 million for postdoctoral and other training, as well as a K-12 program to inspire youth interest in scientific careers.