S.C. schools pin 'medical lifeline' on Internet

The University of South Carolina's Center for Healthcare Quality has been awarded a $4.8 million federal grant to establish a statewide, Internet-based network for seriously ill patients looking for help through clinical trials.

Patients will be able to volunteer for clinical trials, get notification of new research related to their condition and give consent to have their tissue used for research. The network, expected to be available in two years at no cost to patients, will have built-in security checks to protect patient privacy.

"This will be a first-in-the-nation network," said Jay Moskowitz, the USC professor who led the team of researchers who pursued the grant.

The grant, to be paid out by the National Institutes of Health over two years, will bring together the state's three major research institutions - USC, the Medical University of South Carolina and Clemson University. Experts from each school will handle different aspects of the research network.

USC president Harris Pastides said the grant is another example of the benefits from the state's Center of Economic Excellence program, established by the General Assembly in 2002 to help S.C. research institutions lure nationally known experts to the state. Under that program, private money matches state dollars to establish an endowed chair, which is filled by a national expert.

"The NIH award ... would not have happened had it not been for the statewide collaboration between universities and health systems," Pastides said.

Moskowitz and Dr. Iain Sanderson, an MUSC professor who specializes in information technology infrastructure and data linkages, are the grant's principal investigator and co-investigator, respectively. Both hold endowed chairs through the Centers of Economic Excellence program.

Moskowitz said the network will be a step toward improving the overall health of South Carolinians.

"For people with life-threatening illnesses like cancer, clinical research trials are often the last bastion of hope," he said. "Increasingly, patients and their family members are looking to the Internet for a medical lifeline. It is our goal to extend the lifeline."