April 4, 2013

Community involvement aids translational research

As Carla Sevin, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt, began the process of writing a recent grant proposal, she was stumped.

Carla Sevin, M.D., left, interacts with members of the Community Review Board, designed to assist investigators who are conducting translational research involving humans. (photo by Joe Howell)

As Carla Sevin, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt, began the process of writing a recent grant proposal, she was stumped.

How could she include input from the one group that her grant proposed to help?

Luckily for her, the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (VICTR) offers a service called the Community Review Board (CRB), designed specifically to assist researchers and trainees who are conducting translational research that involves humans.

Sevin and her colleagues recently started the Vanderbilt ICU Survivor Clinic to help patients transition from the intensive care setting to home. Sevin wanted to ensure that the clinic was meeting the needs of its patients and their families.

“This kind of clinic is a novel approach to care,” said Sevin. “We have no other models to base it on. We need to make sure it is effective and useful to the general public as well as other health care institutions.

“When someone is working on writing a grant for a new project, it is easy to get stuck in your own head and lose sight of why you are creating the service and what is really important.

“Taking part in the CRB really helped me refine my focus and revive the goals of the clinic. This was invaluable — I walked away with concrete suggestions and ways to improve the project based on patient perspective and input,” Sevin said.

The CRB was created to strengthen research projects in consultation with community members or patients, said Yvonne Joosten, manager of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Community Engaged Research Core.

Joosten said the CRB can be beneficial for all types of translational research — from lab to clinical to community-engaged. It is proving particularly helpful for those applying for Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute grants (PCORI), she said.

“PCORI is a relatively new funding source for health research that requires patient input into the development and implementation of the research project,” said Joosten. “We expect that our services will be utilized more frequently based on these types of grant requests.”

Joosten said that VICTR offers a similar format, called a Translational Studio, where researchers are able to get feedback on research ideas, design, implementation and more from academic experts.

“In the past five to six years, VICTR has invested heavily in developing infrastructure to support community-engaged research, and the CRB is a major component of these efforts,” said Gordon Bernard, M.D., associate vice chancellor for Research and director of VICTR.

The CRB consists of a panel drawn from a pool of about 60 community experts. Each panel is tailored to meet the specific needs of the specific research project.

The CRB is a resource for researchers because it:

• Simplifies the process of gaining community input on design and implementation of translational research.

• Provides access to community experts from different settings without the complexity of scheduling multiple meetings.

• Offers immediate feedback at different stages of project development and implementation.

• Generates recommendations on hypothesis generation, research design, implementation, translation and dissemination.

• Provides opportunities to build relationships with community partners and deepen the understanding of community attitudes, needs and priorities.

“During my CRB session, there were so many pearls of wisdom that really touched on what we are trying to do with this clinic, which is to provide a patient-centered approach to follow-up care after a critical illness and then learn from these patients how to care for them better,” Sevin said.

“We really needed to know what the barriers were for patients and families during their stay, after discharge and beyond. It was extremely helpful to hear from people who have been there.

“I would highly recommend this approach for those researchers trying to direct their efforts to the maximum benefit of their patients.”

More information about the CRB and other services offered by VICTR can be found at https://victr.vanderbilt.edu/pub/.