Who we are
We are among the nation’s leading research universities, with unparalleled research, education and service capabilities. One hundred and fifty two years after our founding, we retain our land grant character: Our major programmatic decisions are driven by societal needs, and we maintain a premier outreach program that helps define these needs and translate new knowledge into practical application.
We have deep and diverse resources in fields that are relevant to human health and wellness. Our College of Medicine has a rich history of attention to the whole patient. Home of the nation’s first medical school department of Humanities, we have retained our strengths in general and family practice as we have grown our basic science and tertiary care enterprises. We have strengths in a spectrum of critically important social, health and life sciences as well as in other areas of science, arts and humanities of critical importance in solving health problems. Our care and outreach resources serve a large and diverse population whose health needs and determinants mirror those of the nation at large.
We have abundant experience in the creation of purpose-oriented institutes that attract, focus and combine talents while allowing traditional academic departments to flourish. These have enabled us to foster multidisciplinary research programs that incorporate diverse fields of study, and interdisciplinary educational programs that spark new ones. Our institutes have created communities of scientists that would not naturally develop out of traditional academic units in an organization as large and diverse as ours.
The future of healthcare
Knowledge, experience and economic realities call for a new alliance among disciplines to better serve the health needs of our people. The traditional biosciences have yielded both unprecedented ability to treat disease and significant progress in prevention. Yet we are faced with concerns over rising costs, unnecessary illness amidst a glut of information, and detachment of individuals from involvement with their own health. While we have a growing understanding of the biological basis for differences in health and wellness among individuals and populations, we also have a renewed appreciation of equally relevant social, behavioral and environmental factors.
An emphasis on wellness and health maintenance should supplant curative approaches when possible. Moreover, curative measures will be most effective when developed and implemented with consideration of the context in which they are applied. New engagement with allied disciplines will re-invigorate and enrich the traditional biosciences.
The Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) will focus our array of talents on opportunities to maintain and improve the health of the people we serve. In response to compelling societal needs and economic realities, our emphasis is on keeping people well “in place,” within their own communities. Acknowledging the multifactorial nature of why people remain healthy or become ill, we will apply a full range of scientific disciplines. Understanding the need for a new synthesis of approaches to solve problems, we will create educational programs that seed a new generation of translational scientists who will be fluent across established fields.
We envision the transformational use of information technologies, not only to uncover new knowledge and to prevent, diagnose and intervene in disease more effectively, but also to collect and disseminate information in novel ways to benefit the health of our patients and the public.
We anticipate substantive involvement of our talents in the arts and the humanities. These include our experts in communication, those who study non-biological measures of health and wellness, and the experts who will aid us in anticipating and navigating the difficult ethical questions that arise unexpectedly out of every new capability.
Structure and governance
The CTSI will follow Penn State’s well-established institute model of lean structure, sharing of core resources and facilities, and modular educational programs. The CTSI will form a strong collaborative alliance with its peer institutes, especially the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences and the Social Science Research Institute (SSRI). In the same manner that existing institutes serve to advance work in the sciences across academic units, the CTSI will serve to advance work aimed at improving human health across areas of science and humanities.
The CTSI director will report directly to the Senior Vice President for Health Affairs. Connections with other institutes and the Colleges established through the CTSI advisory panel will serve as links to the array of talents and capabilities that are cultivated by those units. Guidance will be provided by an Executive Committee to include the Senior VP for Health Affairs, the Senior VP for Research and Graduate Studies, and Deans and Directors of participating colleges and institutes.
Much has been made of the biological and medical science communities’ difficulty in translating new findings into tangible improvements in health. We believe that collaboration among different fields and in partnership with the community provides the greatest opportunity for progress. The prevalence of disease and success of prevention and treatment efforts in a particular community is determined by a combination of genetic, environmental, social and behavioral factors, as well as the quality of available healthcare. The interdisciplinary study of these factors and their interactions will generate new scientific questions and insights that will pave the way to improved diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease, and to their implementation in the community. The research portfolio will include evaluation of strategies to improve dissemination of health knowledge to the public and practitioners and to improve access to care.
What do we mean by translational research?
The ultimate question regarding any biomedical research is whether it addresses a real need (of patients, people or populations) and helps improve people’s lives (by preventing, curing, or improving the outcome of disease). To facilitate the “translation” of new knowledge into health benefits, the scientific community, healthcare providers, industry, policymakers and the community at large need to apply their collective capabilities in a highly collaborative manner, across disciplinary boundaries.
Three essential steps of translation should be recognized. The first denotes the translation of knowledge into potential therapy, diagnostic, or preventive measure. This is the traditional science-to-technology translational emphasis of the biosciences. The second step refers to the implementation and evaluation of new capabilities in clinical practice, and is the traditional scope of clinical research. A less acknowledged but essential additional step is translation of insights gained in practice to raise new questions and inform other translational activities. We consider this third step to be fundamental to strengthening the relevance of our research to society. Collectively, these three phases of translation comprise a cycle of innovation from discovery to community and back again. At each step, we see team science and alliances among disciplines as critical to our success and community engagement as necessary to assure relevance and effectiveness.
Analogous to the Huck Institutes’ administration of integrative biological science (IBIOS) programs, the CTSI will foster the creation of a trans-disciplinary PhD program in clinical-translational science. A modular structure will ease the creation of new options in response to opportunities, student interests, societal needs and scientific directions, while a disciplined review process will ensure substance and rigor. Development of the PhD program will lay a foundation for translational science components to undergraduate medical, graduate medical and nursing programs.