This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Four new research centers proposed to capitalize on clinical research strengths

Published: July 14, 2005

Contributing Editor

Leaders in clinical research at UB presented proposals for four new research centers that would capitalize on existing strengths and have the potential to propel the university into the top echelons of clinical research at a UB 2020 envisioning retreat held on July 7 and focusing on UB's strengths in clinical science and experimental medicine.


Fifty faculty members attended the five-hour session in 105 Harriman Hall, South Campus. Information in the proposals presented at the session and suggestions gleaned from the discussions that followed will be incorporated into a draft white paper that will be presented to the group for review at a second meeting at a date to be determined.

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Faculty members heard proposals for combining current research strengths into four centers: a Center for Clinical and Translational Research in Oral Health; a Center for Healthy Aging; a Center of Excellence in Pediatric Obesity and a Center of Excellence in Pediatric Psychology, which also was referred to as a Consortium for Child Health, Education and Development.

In discussions that ensued, attendees identified common needs for more time to conduct research, more start-up or seed funding and a support infrastructure. They also discussed the challenges of working across disciplines, departments, schools and campuses.

Prior to the presentations, Satish K. Tripathi, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, encouraged attendees in opening remarks to think of the envisioning process as a blank slate and assured them that "resources will be coming in different forms" to support the ways in which they envision leveraging UB's strengths.

Robert Genco, SUNY Distinguished Professor and interim vice president for research, who presented an overview of the envisioning process, asked the group to put aside the needs of individual researchers and think in terms of advancing the university.

Genco noted several advantages held by other major research universities that UB should aim for if the university aspires to be among the nation's top universities. They included a general clinical research center to provide research infrastructure for clinical investigators who receive their primary support from the NIH and other federal agencies; "mission-oriented" research centers devoted to specific chronic diseases, such as diabetes or cardiology; a clinical trials office; and regional translational research centers and practice-based networks.

Frank Scannapieco, professor and chair of the Department of Oral Biology in the School of Dental Medicine, described the four existing research areas that could combine to form a dynamic center for Clinical and Translational Research in Oral Health—the Center for Dental Studies, the Periodontal Disease Clinical Research Center, the Center for the Study of Pain and the Oral Health and Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia Trial.

There is a direct connection between periodontal disease and many of the most frequent causes of death or dysfunction, said Scannapieco, specifically osteoporosis, pre-term birth, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and pulmonary disease. UB researchers are actively involved in work in these areas and there are many opportunities for collaboration, he said.

Bringing such a new center to reality, he said, would require research release time for junior faculty, access to patient populations, funds for pilot trials and easy access to patient databases.

Jean Wactawski-Wende, research associate professor of social and preventive medicine and gynecology and obstetrics, outlined a proposal for a Center on Healthy Aging.

Such a center, she said, would pool existing clinical research strengths in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine in cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity prevention, women's health, diet, alcohol, hormones and environmental exposures with other areas in the university.

Current strengths, she noted, include extensive experience in the epidemiology of chronic disease and clinical prevention trials, several population-based cohorts, the extensive database of the Women's Health Initiative and a biological specimen bank that could be used by other disciplines to study the process of disease.

Wactawski-Wende echoed Scannapieco's call for additional funding and research time, adding adequate support structure and additional faculty to the recipe for success.

Presenting his vision for a UB Center of Excellence in Pediatric Obesity, Leonard Epstein, UB Distinguished Professor in the departments of Pediatrics and Social and Preventive Medicine, discussed research he has been conducting for 25 years on childhood obesity. Epstein developed the "Stoplight Diet" as a guide to children's healthy eating. It remains one of the few plans shown to produce long-term success for obese children. He also was the first researcher to demonstrate a relationship between television watching and childhood obesity.

Epstein noted that the Behavioral Medicine Laboratory, which he heads, already collaborates with researchers from pediatrics, psychology, medicine, physiology, exercise and nutrition sciences, urban planning and economics, and that the proposed center would provide many more opportunities for such collaboration. He named several novel, multidisciplinary research projects that are under way, including an investigation of the relationship between genotype and food reinforcement, and between "built" environments and physical activity.

In addition to time and seed money, he said creation of the new center would require better mentoring of junior faculty members, rewards to retain key faculty and a structure to support multidisciplinary research, including a central office for recruiting multidisciplinary faculty and a grant development and support office.

William Pelham, UB Distinguished Professor, director of the UB Center for Children and Families, and nationally known expert in ADHD, envisioned a cross-disciplinary research endeavor spanning the areas of medicine, education, social work, pharmacy, nursing, child psychiatry, communicative disorders and sciences, counseling and psychology.

One of the challenges to creating such a consortium, he noted, is lack of information on the activities of faculty in these areas.

From discussions that followed the presentations came many suggestions for uniting these areas of current excellence into stronger units. Research money, time and structural support were on everyone's list. Other needs mentioned by several faculty members were a universitywide specimen bank and searchable database for clinical studies, the financial structure and flexibility to hire interdisciplinary faculty and allow collaboration between departments and schools, improved information flow and faculty fellowships.

Several new areas of research that could distinguish UB nationally in clinical research also were suggested: developmental cognitive neuroscience; developmental physiology; economics and food choice, and a life-span or "life-extending" study capitalizing on the stable aging population in the region.