MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — The Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center at West Virginia University will hire 24 physician-scientists and 22 staff members to tackle research aimed at directly benefitting patients under a $19.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Health Sciences Chancellor Christopher Colenda announced the award Wednesday, along with $33.5 million committed by other educational, health sciences and health care entities across the state. That brings the total value of the five-year initiative to $53.1 million.

The grants "instantly propel WVU Health Sciences onto a higher level as a research institution," Colenda said, calling it one of the greatest achievements in the school's history. "It will help us to transform lives and eliminate the health disparities in the state."

The grant goes to the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute, directed by Dr. Uma Sundaram.

Clinical and translational research is defined as work intended to move quickly from laboratory to patient, directly affecting patient care.

"Here, as at many other health centers, there is excellent research and excellent patient care. What we need is a stronger connection between the two," Sundaram said, explaining that the institute will form that link.

Sundaram said he's practiced in West Virginia for eight years and has seen first-hand the many health problems facing West Virginians.

"As health care providers, we need to do not just more, but we need to do better," he said. "This research is patient-centric, and more importantly, it has to be responsive to the needs of our community that we serve."

Colenda said the money will support the people, equipment, programs and protocols that will directly benefit West Virginians and better position WVU to receive larger NIH grants in the future. West Virginia's research will focus on its citizens' most common health problems: cancer, heart disease, stroke and obesity-related diseases.

Its success, Colenda said, will be measured not only on scientific merit but on real-world results.

The partnership includes WVU's medical, dental, nursing, pharmacy and public health schools, as well as WVU Healthcare, the West Virginia United Health System, Charleston Area Medical Center, CAMC Institute and WVU-Charleston and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine.

The grant will let the institute collaborate with other in-state partners and with institutions that already have NIH-funded programs in clinical and translational research, such as the University of Kentucky, Ohio State University and Indiana University.

"In the end, this is about improving health care and improving lives," said WVU President James Clements.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said that for West Virginia to succeed, its people must be healthy. Too many deal with obesity-related problems, he said, "and cancer is a topic too often discussed at the family dinner table."

"The research done with this grant has the potential to improve and possibly save lives," he told the 36 investigators who helped land the grant and the hundreds who gathered for the formal announcement.

"There are hundreds of families who pray every day for a miracle — a miracle that will heal their loved ones," Tomblin said. "And your research can be the answer to their prayers."