January 30, 2004

Vanderbilt, Centerstone partnership brings mental illness research into practice

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Dr. Herbert Meltzer

Vanderbilt, Centerstone partnership brings mental illness research into practice

For some time, two forces in the mental health field sat side by side, each diligently doing its work, neither paying much attention to each other. These two forces have finally looked each other in the eye — and they like what they see.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center has teamed up with mental health care provider Centerstone to conduct cutting-edge research, and to bring this research to the forefront of clinical care for patients with mental illness. This partnership has also provided collaborative recruiting opportunities for both organizations and a teaching environment for Vanderbilt residents.

“There’s great potential for this partnership. In my view, this working relationship offers great benefits for both sides and that’s the ideal situation,” said Dr. George Bolian, associate professor of Psychiatry and interim chair of the department, who helped foster the Centerstone/Vanderbilt affiliation.

When eyeing each other, Centerstone saw a university holding a wealth of knowledge in world-renowned researchers in the field of mental health. Vanderbilt saw an organization with a large, well-managed patient base, an essential component of research. A partnership was a natural fit.

“Opening this relationship with Centerstone is a crucial step in the evolution of the Department of Psychiatry. The resources which they provide are pivotal for the department’s research goals and for training residents and fellows,” said Dr. Herbert Meltzer, Bixler Professor for Psychiatry and Pharmacology and director of the Psychopharmacology Division at Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital. Meltzer, who is internationally known for his schizophrenia research, has been a significant catalyst in this partnership effort.

“Dr. Meltzer has unquestionably been a major collaborator,” said Thomas Doub, Ph.D., vice president of research for Centerstone. “It would not have been possible to establish such an active research program at Centerstone without his efforts and the ongoing support of Dr. Bolian and Dr. Catron.”

Centerstone CEO David Guth Jr. acknowledged that Meltzer was the first to recognize this opportunity.

“There has been a widening gap in the mental health sector between research and practice. Researchers have been waiting for organizations to embrace research. Long before we recognized the benefit of a relationship between Centerstone and Vanderbilt, Dr. Meltzer recognized it,” Guth said. “We looked up and realized that we’re one of the 10 largest mental health organizations in the country, sitting in a community with a leading research university with an international reputation. If we’re not embracing research — who will?”

With Meltzer’s help, research has become one of Centerstone’s top four priorities, along with evidence-based treatment – putting research into practice in clinical care.

“We’re excited to be a part of understanding the complexities of mental health, to believe we’re making a contribution that other patients will benefit from in the future,” said Dr. Karen Rhea, vice president for medical services for Centerstone. “While we’re treating patients today, we are able to lay the groundwork for treating the patients of tomorrow.”

For Vanderbilt, the foremost benefit of this relationship is having access to Centerstone’s large, well-managed patient base. Centerstone uses an internet-based electronic record to manage medical information, facilitating data retrieval for clinical and research purposes.

“We have around 1,000 patients–they have 40,000. This presents a tremendous support base for research studies,” Meltzer said. “Having access to a large patient population allows us to pursue more opportunities, to conduct more studies.”

Centerstone developed from the merging of six community-based mental health centers in Middle Tennessee in 1997. Today, Centerstone includes 66 facilities, serving 41 counties, offering a wide spectrum of behavioral health care services to men, women and children throughout Middle Tennessee.

“The population we service is very large and diverse,” said Doub. “And I see it as a major win to see consumers who are in the public mental health system being included in research.”

Centerstone patients have already had the opportunity to be involved in research projects. One study currently underway involves improving the cognitive functioning of those with schizophrenia. From the earliest stages of their illness, almost all people with schizophrenia have a deficit in cognitive functioning, according to Meltzer, which in areas such as long term memory and attention can place their performance on tests of these measures in the lowest fifth percentile of the population.

Earlier research from Meltzer showed that the new generation of antipsychotic drugs can partially restore some areas of cognitive function. Now his group is examining new strategies to go beyond this and, through combined basic and clinical research, how these drugs achieve this benefit.

Along with his research contributions, Meltzer has made himself available to the Centerstone staff. He meets frequently with clinical staff for case consultation and provides expert review. Meltzer is also working with Centerstone to open two Schizophrenia Specialty Clinics, clinics that will offer advanced services to patients with schizophrenia.

Having an expert, someone who knows the latest research findings, consulting on patient care is exactly what Centerstone is looking for.

“We don’t want to stop at fostering research,” said Guth. “We want the findings to quickly find their way into practice. We want every patient who walks into our system to get the most effective treatment. We want to work collaboratively with Vanderbilt to move the industry forward.”