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New system helps speed transfer of research materials

Mar. 20, 2014, 10:14 AM

Vanderbilt University Medical Center has launched an automated system for processing and managing Material Transfer Agreements (MTAs), which govern the transfer of biological materials, chemicals, human tissue samples and other materials between institutions to facilitate academic research.

The new system, called MTAShare, is in use at Vanderbilt and will be available to research institutions nationwide later this spring.

Alan Bentley

The system can significantly speed the pace of research, said Alan Bentley, assistant vice chancellor for Technology Transfer in the Vanderbilt Center for Technology Transfer and Commercialization (CTTC).

During the past five years, the number of MTAs processed annually by CTTC has more than doubled, from 400 to nearly 1,000, he said. Currently it can take from a few days to several weeks to negotiate a single agreement.

If MTAShare is adopted nationwide, “academia could save tens of millions of dollars every year in time and effort… and vastly improve service to our researchers,” Bentley said. MTAShare also will reduce CTTC’s workload, as it will render the center “largely non-participatory for most outgoing MTAs,” he added.

The system was developed in partnership with a software team led by Paul Harris, Ph.D., associate professor of Biomedical Informatics and Biomedical Engineering. MTAShare is also powered by REDCap, another Harris group invention helping researchers throughout the worldcollect and manage research data.

Paul Harris, Ph.D.

“This is a great example of teamwork” said Harris, who directs the Office of Research Informatics (ORI). “A diverse group of experts in CTTC worked with ORI programmers Anneliese Moosman and Michelle Fernandez to produce a new platform with tremendous potential impact for researchers at Vanderbilt and across the world.”

MTAShare, which leverages a standard set of documents developed by the NIH and by the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), was unveiled last month at AUTM’s annual meeting in San Francisco. The standardized documents, which comprise the AUTM MTA Toolkit, facilitate approvals and eliminate the need for negotiations.

Researchers fill out a one-page electronic questionnaire, click “submit,” and the appropriate contract is generated automatically based on their answers, and sent to the recipient. “The whole transaction takes a few minutes, and in the most straightforward cases, can be instantaneous,” Bentley said. “That’s a game-changer.”

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