UT-Houston Medicine Magazine The University of Texas Medical School at Houston
UT-Houston Medicine Magazine

Advancing Medicine through Clinical Research

By Camille Webb

Developing novel vaccines and therapeutic methods to treat and one day cure global epidemics like AIDS, cancer, and diabetes are at the foundation of clinical research and testing through clinical trials.

At The University of Texas Medical School at Houston, the mission follows a three-pronged approach – education, research, and clinical care – in training tomorrow's leaders and enhancing medical research. Studying the clinical aspects of diseases and illnesses has always played a vital role in advancing the mission of the school. "We've always had a really strong clinical research component in the Medical School, and it's growing every year," says Pablo Okhuysen, M.D., professor of internal medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases and director of the University Clinical Research Center (UCRC). "Clinical research is important to identify newer, more efficient, and safer ways to treat patients. Without research, medical therapies cannot advance. These are patient-based studies that can be used to either test a new drug or new intervention or to study the way that the body reacts either in normal conditions or during illness."

However, clinical research at any medical school involves more than patient care. "Clinical research is important because it attracts faculty who are interested in making breakthroughs," Dr. Okhuysen says. "It also attracts funding and prestige. And, it attracts patients who are seeking new treatment modalities."

Over the years, clinical research at the Medical School has involved a wide-range of studies covering neurological disorders, like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease; infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS; rheumatologic conditions and diseases, including arthritis and scleroderma; cardiovascular diseases, such as thoracic aortic aneurysms; and childhood diseases, like cystic fibrosis.

"Without clinical research, you would be unable to prove whether a new drug or new intervention works more effectively," Dr. Okhuysen says. "Without well-developed clinical trials done under very rigorous conditions, you can't get approval of medications or interventions. Clinical research serves to prove whether existing therapies compare to new interventions or whether adaptations to previous therapies are better.

"This is the way that medications get tested to work for cancer and HIV," Dr. Okhuysen continues. "It's through clinical research that we find out whether vaccines work. It almost applies to every single treatment."

Promoting efficiency, quality, and excellence in research are the keys to making discoveries at academic medical centers and the hallmark of the Medical School's clinical research activities.

"Medical schools are the places where you can expect that advances are most likely developed and most likely to be rigorously. tested," says Jon Tyson, M.D., M.P.H., assistant dean for clinical research and director of the Center for Clinical Research and Evidence-Based Medicine. "Clinical research is an area that's a natural strength for UTHouston because we have a large, heterogeneous patient population as well as schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, public health, health information sciences, and biomedical sciences. We're also in a very large city and in the world's largest medical center, so we have a lot of advantages."


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