Building Bridges: A Unique Collaboration Between Academic and Public Institutions Helps Advance the Field of Translational Science

By Samantha Devapiriam — June 08, 2020

Collaboration is an essential part of any organization. In the field of translational science, now more than ever, collaboration is necessary to make advancements in healthcare.

Recognizing the need to come together, one unique collaboration allowed public health institutions and private sector researchers to make contributions to translational science and the robust research community.

This collaboration was made possible by a yearly opportunity that supports teams that have innovative ideas for solving problems inherent in conducting translational science with multidisciplinary team members.

Designed to help selected researchers receive the necessary support that will enable them to write a publication on their research, referred to as a “synergy” paper, groups receiving the award form a collaborative effort to advance the field of translational science.

This year, faculty and staff affiliated with the SC CTSI were part of a team that received this prestigious opportunity: Amytis Towfighi, MD, Director of Health Delivery Science; Allison Orechwa, PhD, Director of Programmatic Development; and Daniella Meeker, PhD, Clinical Research Informatics Co-Director. 

The team tackled a big problem currently facing the scientific community: effectively translating research into policy and practice. Their solution involved partnering academic institutions and Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) hubs with local government and public health organizations to help facilitate communication and overcome bureaucratic hurdles. The team’s synergy paper is titled: Bridging the Gap between Research, Policy, and Practice: Lessons Learned from Academic-Public Partnerships in the CTSA Network, and focuses on the efforts of the researchers in four different locations around the country: Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, and San Francisco.

After months spent collaborating with other researchers at CTSA hubs all across the country, their synergy paper was recently accepted and published. 

“We actually found it remarkably easy to find areas where our interests aligned,” said Amytis Towfighi, MD, Director of Health Delivery Science, when discussing the ease of collaboration among CTSA hubs.

What made the partnerships in this initiative so effective was the fact that the team identified common interests between the government and health organizations and the CTSA hubs so that they could both work towards a shared goal. SC CTSI partnered with UCLA’s CTSI and the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services to create an intramural pilot funding program for projects “that test interventions to enhance quality, efficiency, and patient-centeredness of care,” according to the synergy paper.

An added benefit of cross-institutional synergy is gaining more knowledge about the inner-workings of each hub.

“We have all learned a great deal from each other about aligning our translational centers with our health departments to promote research that informs health policy,” said coauthor Marc Atkins, PhD, Director of Community Engagement and Collaboration at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science.

“The early enthusiasm laid a great foundation for a productive collaboration,” said Allison Orechwa, PhD, SC CTSI Director of Programmatic Development, speaking on the efforts of writing the synergy paper.

However, this unique collaborative effort wasn’t devoid of challenges.

“Having a clear champion on the public health and healthcare side, focusing on the public partners’ needs, having insight into the perspectives of the community, and leveraging trusting relationships” were all cornerstones of ensuring a fruitful collaboration between the hubs and government institutions, according to Towfighi.

Despite their synergy paper already being accepted and published, the work of these researchers and their public health partners is far from over. With plans to continue the outreach of their program, researchers created a CTSA Discussion Forum for all CTSA hubs and health organizations.

“We created a CTSA Discussion Forum, open to all CTSA hubs as well as other health organizations. We expect to meet monthly to share strategies for promoting and sustaining such partnerships,” Orechwa added. With strong initiatives in place to ensure its longevity, this innovative collaboration is definitely one to watch. 

NIH Funding Acknowledgment: Important - All publications resulting from the utilization of SC CTSI resources are required to credit the SC CTSI grant by including the NIH funding acknowledgment and must comply with the NIH Public Access Policy.