New initiative connects scientists to accelerate the pace of health research

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Various studies estimate how long it takes for health research to go from the lab out into the world where it can do some good, with findings ranging anywhere from 10 to 17 years.

Health professionals universally agree that's way too long. To speed up the process from discovery to practice, many researchers and health practitioners have begun engaging in a different method to tackle health problems called “translational science.” In the translational science model, separate health-related groups combine forces to address a health issue from all sides, which reduces the amount of time it takes a health solution to reach the public.

To increase understanding of and competence in this form of scientific discovery, the College of Health Solutions is launching a Dissemination and Implementation (D&I) Affinity Network to help those interested in getting better at forming connections, sharing information and implementing research in this faster-paced translational science environment.

This effort launches Jan. 25 with a D&I Affinity Network Kickoff, a half-day seminar for any university faculty or staff member who wants to learn about D&I methodology and how to apply it to their various research and academic areas.

“This training is for scientists at every phase of the translational spectrum — from bench science to policy analysis — who need to improve and speed the dissemination and implementation of new knowledge so that it can be used to benefit population health as soon as possible,” said Scott Leischow, professor and director of translational science at the College of Health Solutions.  

Leischow and the other leaders of the D&I Affinity Network — Rodger Kessler, research professor and director of dissemination and implementation, and Matt Buman, associate professor, both of the College of Health Solutions — secured a grant from the Arizona Biomedical Research Centre to implement a yearlong training program on dissemination and implementation methodology. Part of the  grant will fund four nationally recognized experts in D&I methods, two this spring and two in the fall, to speak on D&I strategies and increase understanding about how this method can accelerate the pace at which research is implemented.

“We want to create a pool of knowledge about D&I and increase the use of D&I methodology to help speed innovation in many areas of health to have a greater impact on our Arizona communities,” Leischow said.

“Dissemination and implementation represents a fundamental shift in the philosophy of science, focusing on rigorous and rapid response to questions that are important to our partners and communities,” Kessler said. “It applies to any health issue or research area. We are creating a flexible framework of people from a broad spectrum of translation, who will learn from each other and achieve more than if each person or system worked on the same problem in isolation. It will serve as the cornerstone to academic and community research at ASU going forward.”

Flexibility is key to the dissemination and implementation process and the affinity network structure, agreed Deborah Williams, clinical assistant professor and manager of the College of Health Solutions Translational Team initiative. Affinity networks also depend on the relationships that happen when scientists collaborate.

“It’s based on, not only the value of the knowledge, but also recognizes that the flow of knowledge is itself a resource,” she said. “So this affinity network is not really a rigid structure. It’s more of a pathway that allows for the accumulation and transfer of knowledge. You have to create a pathway, or knowledge doesn’t go anywhere. This structure is a recognition that the world is more relational than we realize and that those relationships have value.”

This more nimble affinity network system will make it easier to work with community partners as well.

“We hear over and over that the community is eager to connect with ASU experts or researchers, but there’s not always a way to do that,” Williams said. “And sometimes the community is doing things very similarly to what our researchers are doing, so this D&I network will help us build connections to learn from each other better ways to do things and not duplicate efforts.”

Learn more about the Dissemination and Implementation Affinity Network and how to join the kickoff seminar on Jan. 25.