Volunteering for studies of new drugs is a ’heroic act,’ says head of clinical research at UTHCT

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Volunteering to participate in studies of new drugs is a heroic act, the head of clinical research at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler told the crowd gathered for the 10th Annual Allen B. Cohen Lecture.

“Clinical research requires curious scientists, time, funding, institutional and government oversight, people, and volunteers. It requires an educated population who are ready to step up to the plate and participate. It takes heroes,” James Stocks, MD, told the crowd at the TASCA Ornelas Activity Center on Tuesday, April 12.

“I’ve had people fly in from the West Coast, from the East Coast. I’ve had people call me from other countries and say they are willing to come to Tyler to participate in a clinical trial of a new drug or therapy,” he said.

In clinical research, new drugs or therapies are systematically tested to see if the drugs are safe and effective, Dr. Stocks said. Before people participate in the studies, or trials, of these drugs, they must understand the risks and benefits.

“We as researchers want to understand if the risks outweigh the benefits. We all bear the costs of human illness. No man is an island. Illness is not something ‘other people’ get. Illness is something that we all get,” he said.

“Without clinical research, what we know as science never leaves the lab. If it weren’t for clinical research, we’d still be using grandmother’s remedies. People and their health are the necessary subjects of clinical research,” Dr. Stocks said.

The annual lecture and dinner honors Dr. Cohen, “the father of research at our campus,” UTHSCT President Dr. Calhoun said as he acknowledged Dr. Cohen’s widow, Geri Cohen, who attended the event.

Dr. Cohen was an internationally respected pulmonary physician and researcher who joined UTHSCT in August 1983. The former executive associate director and professor of medicine and biochemistry at UTHSCT died in February 1995.

Dr. Stocks, who came to the Health Center in 1984, said Dr. Cohen “still remains, to this day, a very respected researcher in the field of emphysema and other lung diseases.”

He was the catalyst behind helping make the Health Center a world-class biomedical research facility, Dr. Stocks said.

Dr. Calhoun said, “Since fiscal year 2003, the Health Center has been awarded 70 new federal grants, primarily from the National Institutes of Health. These awards bring in research dollars to East Texas. Scientific discoveries at UTHSCT will have an immeasurable impact on our future.”

Currently there are 113 active clinical research trials at UTHSCT, with 42 of the 82 medical faculty members serving as lead investigators or co-investigators of these studies, Dr. Stocks said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which oversees drug safety and effectiveness, approves from 30 to 40 drugs each year in the United States, Dr. Stocks said. In the United States, it costs about $900 million to gain FDA approval for each new drug. About $67 billion is spent in the United States on medical research each year, roughly equal to the $65 billion spent annually on the U.S. military, he added.

The five recipients of the 2005 Research Membership Seed Grant Awards also were recognized during the event. They are: Rodolfo Amaro, MD; Susan Barrows, MD; Zvjezdana Sever-Chroneos, Ph.D.; David Shafer, MD; and Hua Tang, Ph.D.

Their research ranges from testing a comprehensive approach to curbing childhood obesity to evaluating antibiotic treatments that could prevent dangerous infections in children with cystic fibrosis. A committee made up of community members of the UTHSCT Research Council awarded the grants.

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