Lower-income and underrepresented groups and communities on Long Island suffer from health inequities that impact healthcare access, delivery and ultimately health outcomes. The Long Island Network for Clinical and Translational Science (LINCATS), based at Stony Brook University, works to alleviate these disparities by focusing resources and efforts on the social determinants of health through community engagement and translational science innovations.
An inaugural forum September 26 in the MART auditorium in Stony Brook University Hospital introduced LINCATS to the community, along with its mission, goals and successes.
Led by Anissa Abi-Dargham, MD, LINCATS principal investigator, LINCATS team members described the modules that comprise their goals, of which community engagement and research is central.
“This is one of the critical pieces so that the conversation, the dialogue, between communities and the Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) organization is working flawlessly,” said Abi-Dargham. “We’re responsible and accountable to all the needs of the community and we build trust with the community and we’re able to lean on them to advise us of necessary resources and services.”
LINCATS secured $10 million in funding from Congress to build an eight-bed hospital unit to house patients participating in research who require inpatient monitoring. “If you don’t have this kind of facility, you’re really excluding a huge part of what could be feasible,” Abi-Dargham noted. The unit is expected to open in Fall 2025.
Clinical and translational science is the process of turning observations into interventions to improve health, and LINCATS works with researchers and the community to design new approaches and technologies with the goal of delivering more treatments to more people, more quickly. “The issue,” Abi-Dargham described, “is that we don’t have enough treatments for many diseases and that’s because developing treatments is very, very hard. Out of 100 potential treatments, 95 will fail and many diseases don’t have any treatments at all.”
“The critical problem is that we need to better understand what’s similar across diseases so we can help develop multiple treatments in parallel,” she continued. “The other issue is that we need to personalize treatment so that the specific individual has the appropriate intervention for their specific disorder or underlying mechanisms of their disorder. That’s what we call precision medicine. And then finally, that the clinical trials would have results that are more generalizable.”
LINCATS hopes to address some of these issues through collaborations, partnerships, multidisciplinary teams and data transparency to share research data. A cornerstone of the process is the development of community partners to share the health needs and concerns of their communities to help steer LINCATS activities and to create bi-directional feedback.
Members of the leadership team described the modules that comprise the facets of LINCATS: Resource Services, Workforce Development, Community Engagement, Pilot Funding, Health Informatics, and the K12 Mentored Clinical and Translational Research Career Development Program.
The Resource Services module supports researchers through a unified access point to new and existing services to improve the impact of their projects. Services categories are Biobanking and Tissue Analytics, Biostatistics and Research Design, Biotechnology Entrepreneurship, Community Based Research Services, Dissemination and Implementation Studio, Health Informatics, Proposal Audit and Review, Regulatory Knowledge and Support, and TriNetX Consultation.
These services capitalize on the vast expertise at Stony Brook University. The innovative Health Informatics services include statistical and machine-learning based data analysis of both radiology and pathology imaging. Other services connect researchers with community members and experts to ensure that research proposals or materials reflect specific community needs and are culturally germane.
TriNetX Consultation is a platform representing health data of millions of patients globally. Researchers may interrogate this large database regarding study specific research questions. This allows users to produce a limited data set either based on Stony Brook data or combinations of different institutions, increasing data transparency and generalizability.
Through the Workforce Development module, a core curriculum emphasizing the fundamentals of working in laboratory settings branches into study coordinator track and clinical clinician tracks. Currently at phase one with open content through online access, phase two will bring in specific training for coordinators and clinicians, followed by phase three in which some in-person aspects will be implemented to learn from others in a small group setting.
The Community Engagement module team works with community ambassadors, the Community Advisory Board, and community members to increase trust in science and research, and to reduce bias to increase the likelihood that the team will be able to accelerate information to the community. Activities include a chatbot for dissemination of health information, a two-day Summer Research Institute for researchers and community members consultations for mentorship, training and guidance, and an all hands meetings every two months to discuss challenges, obstacles and solutions related to health disparities.
The goal of the Pilot Funding module is to ignite and promote new translational science programs that address the needs of the Long Island community, as identified by the Community Advisory Board and ambassadors. The program also promotes the careers of underrepresented groups and women. Pilot awards are up to one year in duration to complete translational science research. Awards are open to all faculty and postdoctoral fellows throughout the LINCATS network. Interested parties submit a three-page proposal detailing the significance of the research, the innovation involved in the research, the research approach, and how the study will lead to external funding. The submission deadline for the current open call is October 16.
After funding is awarded, LINCATS offers the researcher a research concierge service to help the investigator navigate the steps to set up the project, submit for IRB or IACUC approval, prepare data capturing and data storage, and budgeting, and ultimately to apply for external funding. Each awardee is paired with a Community Ambassador to ensure that the research continues to address community needs.
The Health Informatics module is designed to make the process of data analysis less daunting. The team is building a Research Data Warehouse, which includes health record data and image data. Creating data from images is possible through machine learning, which uses computer algorithms and statistical models to identify patterns in those images. The results of this image analysis could potentially identify health issues that would be missed by the naked eye, and allow research to be completed quickly by reducing or eliminating the manual labor of a researcher looking at thousands of individual images.
The upcoming health informatics bootcamp on October 19 in the Wang Center, “Bringing Data to Life,” will introduce attendees of all disciplines to data analysis and educate them about tools that make it easier to analyze data.
The K12 Mentored Clinical and Translational Research Career Development Program’s goal is to mentor and train investigators in clinical and translational research and support the progression to an independent research career with the ultimate goal of leading and serving the research community. The program is a two-year program with 75% salary support from LINCATS to enable the awardee to conduct research. The current submission deadline is December 1 for a July 1 start date.
“This event has been a long time in the making… It is the result of much work over the last few years by an interdisciplinary team across not only Stony Brook University and Stony Brook Medicine, but also our collaborators throughout Long Island,” said Abi-Dargham. “We are excited to share our programs with the larger community to accelerate translational science and improve public health outcomes.”
— Beth Squire