From insight to on-site: faculty's research findings are translated into programs and policies to improve people's lives.
Subject: Universities and colleges (United States)
Universities and colleges (Research)
College teachers (Research)
College teachers (Beliefs, opinions and attitudes)
Pub Date: 05/01/2010
Publication: Name: Human Ecology Publisher: Cornell University, Human Ecology Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Science and technology; Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Cornell University, Human Ecology ISSN: 1530-7069
Issue: Date: May, 2010 Source Volume: 38 Source Issue: 1
Topic: Event Code: 310 Science & research
Product: Product Code: 8220000 Colleges & Universities NAICS Code: 61131 Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools SIC Code: 8221 Colleges and universities
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 230063972
Full Text: The idea has been around nearly as long as human beings have been doing research: what is the best way to use our discoveries to help people better their lives?

While the concept is centuries old, only in the past decade the field called Translational Research emerged as an important priority among academics and organizations that fund research.

"Translational research is a good buzzword," explained Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor of Human Development and associate dean for outreach and extension. "It states clearly that there needs to be people around who can take the insights of basic research and move them out to the people who need them."

A. large part of Pillemer's job is to spearhead the College's work in translational research and to make sure that work ultimately reaches citizens in New York and across the nation.

With an infrastructure that facilitates the dissemination of research findings and a close relationship with Cornell Cooperative Extension, Human Ecology is an ideal place for this kind of work.

"At Human Ecology, we have this fantastic extension system that helps faculty who are doing phenomenal research more easily get their work translated into programs and policies," Pillemer said.

Here's a look at six Human Ecology faculty members and a frequent collaborator from Weill Cornell Medical College and how they view the field of translational research.

Kay Obendorf

Senior Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Education, Professor of Fiber Science & Apparel Design

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Obendorf's lab develops materials and fabric that can be used for protective clothing and for improving air quality, and she conducts basic research on detergency and fabric care.

Projects:

* Self-decontaminating fiber formation for protective materials

* Development of antimicrobial materials using an environmentally sustainable approach

"At the College of Human Ecology, we are good at translational research because it is part of our very definition. We have always been a multidisciplinary college with a land-grant mission that includes extension and outreach along with research and teaching.

"Translational research is like a bridge that connects basic research to the community. It also brings information back from the community to inform future research. The work that Martha Van Rensselaer and Flora Rose did decades ago was all a precursor to what we call translational research today."

Carol Devine

Professor of Nutritional Sciences

Devine's research focuses on understanding how working women and men, especially those in low-income families, integrate work, family, and food choices, and the effect of those choices on overweight and obesity. Her outreach work is focused on creating food and physical activity environments in workplaces and communities that promote healthy eating and active living to prevent weight gain, obesity, and chronic diseases, particularly breast cancer.

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Projects:

* Small Changes and Lasting Effects is an intervention study of mindful eating, positive emotions, and self affirmation to ascertain what best leads to weight loss in individual, family, and faith-based settings in Harlem and the South Bronx. (Read more on page 17.)

* Images of a Healthy Worksite is an environmental intervention trial aimed at weight gain prevention in a large industrial worksite.

* Small Steps Are Easier Together is an intervention that helps small worksites in rural communities improve their environments for healthy eating and physical activity.

"The College of Human Ecology and the larger Cornell community have such wonderful collaborators in the biological and social sciences. There are psychologists, sociologists, economists, and experts in so many other fields that help us understand the whole picture, so we can bring all of the pieces together to help people. We're all interested in helping human beings."

Dr. M.Cary Reid

Associate Professor of Medicine and the Joachim Silberman Family Clinical Scholar in Geriatric Palliative Care at Weill Cornell Medical College

Dr. Reid is a medial doctor focused on improving pain management among older adults. He also studies the epidemiology and treatment of substance abuse disorders in older persons.

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Projects:

* The Translationsl Research Institute on Pain in Later Life is a center funded by the National Institutes of Health that supports the translation of basic behavioral and social science research findings into treatments, intervention programs, and policies that improve the health and well-being of older adults who suffer from or are at increased risk for pain (see page 8 in this issue).

* A project with the Arthritis Foundation seeks to adapt an evidence-based pain self-management program for use in senior centers serving minority elders in New York City.

"There is no standard definition for translational research that tells you where we are with this emerging field. I define it as research that explicitly focuses on translating evidence and knowledge from one venue to another and involves generating knowledge at the community or practice level that feedbacks to inform basic research. Translational research is not unidirectional but includes research that goes in both directions--from bench to bedside to practice, as well as practice to bedside to bench.

"Across the nation, insufficient attention has been paid to translating research into practice. As a nation, we are spending billions of dollars annually to generate new information, but we do not have mechanisms in place to translate this knowledge efficiently so that the maximum number of individuals benefit. The Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging has been a leader in the field, and Cornell continues to advance our understanding of the science of translation."

Nancy Wells

Associate Professor of Design and Environmental Analysis

Wells researches, the effects of nature on health and psychological well-being. Her outreach projects include creating opportunities for children and older adults to spend trine outdoors. She also incorporates translational research into her classes to teach students about the growing field.

Projects:

* Urban Forest Adventures is a collaboration with Cornell Cooperative Extension funded by the U.S. Forest Service to connect youth in Tompkins County with nature.

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* Students in Wells's class DEA 661: Environment and Health take on "Bridging the Gap" projects each year to create evidence-based educational materials to address a health issue in the local community.

"To me, our basic mission is taking our research and using it to make a difference in people's lives--that could be through impacting public policy, practice, or design. That concept is so much at the core of the values of Human Ecology. There's institutional support for being innovative and integrating research, teaching, and outreach."

Charles Brainerd

Professor of Human Development

Brainerd is an experimental psychologist focused on the area of human cognition, memory, and neuroscience. His research is focused on three main areas: how memory and cognition impact the law, children in the legal system, and the effects of aging and the diseases of late adulthood on cognitive processes.

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Projects:

* Low-Burden Tools for Improving Prediction and Diagnosis of Cognitive Impairment in Aging

* Trichotomous Processes in Early Memory Development, Aging, and Neurocognitive Impairment: A Unified Theory

* Remembering in Contradictory Minds: Disjunction Fallacies in Episodic Memory

"I am a basic scientist. My work follows where theory and data take me. When I reach a point in my research where I have something to share, the College provides a mechanism that makes it very easy to get that information out.

"In the areas in which I work, there's a great need for applying new information in the field. In the court system, less than 10 percent of cases have physical forensic evidence available that bears on guilt or innocence, and in half of those cases it can't be used. In most cases, the evidence is what people remember and reports of what people remember. So we have to be able to understand and explain human memory, and then apply that to our legal system.

"Another area in which I work is looking at dementia and cognitive impairment in older adults. In that area, there's a great need for the development of instruments to identify people as soon as possible so that as treatments become available, we'll be better able to help those people."

Rachel Dunifon

Associate Professor of Policy Analysis and Management and Department Extension Leader

Dunifon's research explores child and family policy including the influence of welfare reform and other policies on the well-being of children, how conditions of the low-wage labor market influence family life and children's development, and the role of grandparents in the lives of youth.

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Projects:

* Relatives Raising Youth is a five-year project funded by the William T. Grant Foundation studying the role of grandparents in the lives of youth.

* Nonstandard Work Schedules and Child Development is a project funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development that explores the influence of maternal work conditions, especially those found in the low-wage labor market, on children.

"I have a research and extension appointment at the College, which means that I spend about half of my time sharing Human Ecology research with practitioners and policymakers in New York. That role has actually shaped my own research. The whole reason I got involved with studying grandparents and their roles in raising children is because I was hearing from people in the community that this was a growing issue.

"Since we've been studying grandparents, there have been opportunities to provide them materials that help them to raise their grandchildren. For example, we were hearing from grandparents that they didn't understand the different types of technology teenagers are using. So we created a very simple handout that explains what things like MySpace and Facebook are. It gives the grandparents some information to begin a dialogue with their grandchildren.

"When researchers are aware of and open to what's important to people in the community, this can take research in different and interesting directions. Ultimately, that openness to input helps to integrate research and the real world."

William Trochim

Professor of Policy Analysis and Management, Director of Evaluation for the Weill Cornell Clinical and Translational Science Center, and Director of Evaluation for Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Trochim's research is in applied social, research methodology, with an emphasis on program planning and evaluation methods. He has developed a number of methodologies used in the behavioral, social, and medical sciences.

Projects:

* As the director of evaluation for Weill Cornell Clinical and Translational Science Center, Trochim is working to develop systems for evaluation of large, biomedical research initiatives.

* He is actively engaged in research with the National Science Foundation incorporating systems approaches in the evaluation of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education programs.

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* In his role as director of evaluation for Extension and Outreach, Trochim is helping Cornell Cooperative Extension create methods for extension professionals to evaluate their programs.

"Translational research is the juncture between how we as a society learn and how we use what we learn. In the past few decades we have discovered that it is taking far too long to translate what we've learned into practice. On average in biomedical research, it takes 17 years from an initial idea to getting that idea into practice. Many biomedical researchers wait their entire careers before something they discovered early on actually gets used. Translational research encourages this to happen faster while not sacrificing quality or cost. This requires integrating systems of researchers and practitioners.

"The College of Human Ecology is ideally positioned to play a key role in the field of translational research because we are all about how humans function in systems within their environments. The issues we are trying to overcome are ultimately human issues. This translational work will not be successful without the human ecology being addressed."

For more information:

Charles Brainerd

cb299@cornell.edu

Carol Devine

cmd10@cornell.edu

Rachel Dunifon

red26@cornell.edu

Kay Obendorf

sko3@cornell.edu

M. Cary Reid

mcr2004@med.cornell.edu

William Trochim

wmt1@cornell.edu

Nancy Wells

nmw2@cornell.edu

Translational research: The process of applying ideas, insight, and discoveries generated through basic scientific inquiry.

--National Institutes of Health
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