Transforming health

New School of Medicine research center aims to improve health of South Carolinians

This fall, the School of Medicine Columbia is launching a new center aimed at improving the health of South Carolinians by changing the way faculty and physicians think about research.

“Our research needs to make a difference in the way we practice medicine and deliver health care right here in South Carolina. We want to bridge the basic science research and the clinical research to move our efforts from the laboratory bench to the patient bedside,” says Dr. Les Hall, executive dean of the USC School of Medicine Columbia.

The Research Center for Transforming Health will lay the groundwork for this shift. Dr. Christine Turley, a clinical pediatrician and researcher, has been named executive director of the center.

“The goal of the Research Center for Transforming Health is to make it easier for faculty members and clinicians to do research that will have practical outcomes for patients. The center will help connect researchers within the School of Medicine, the university, the state and beyond,” Turley says.

Hiring the center’s staff and evaluating current research efforts and resources will be Turley’s first priorities. Turley also plans to begin offering educational program, mentoring and logistical support during the center’s first year.

Turley has served on the University of South Carolina School of Medicine faculty as a professor of pediatrics since 2012. She has been the vice chair for research in the pediatrics department since 2013. Turley also previously served as the chief medical officer for Health Sciences South Carolina, a statewide health collaborative aimed at transforming South Carolina's public health and economic well-being through research.

“We see this initiative as the nexus for bringing down silos. We want to engage scientists and physicians in a new way. We are a relatively small medical school, but we have world-class researchers and clinicians. There are opportunities for us to be on the frontier of medical research,” says Dr. Frank Spinale, associate dean for research and graduate education.

Spinale says there are a number of projects underway in the School of Medicine that fit this patient-centered model. For instance, Dr. Souvik Sen, professor and chair of clinical neurology, has a National Institutes of Health grant to research the relationship between dental health and the risk of stroke recurrence.

There are opportunities for us to be on the frontier of medical research.

Frank Spinale, associate dean for research and graduate education

“Reducing the risk of stroke recurrence is an important clinically relevant problem. It is typically the second stroke that results in significant disability and decreased quality of life. If researchers can find ways to reduce that risk, then they are giving people their lives back,” Spinale says.

Turley’s own research also is a good example of this impact-focused research model. She currently is the principal investigator on a collaborative four-year, $1.6-million National Institutes of Health grant to develop a statewide pediatric research network.

The network is intended to boost participation in “research that makes a difference” for children and families across South Carolina. The grant places particular emphasis on clinical research to better understand and improve health outcomes for children and families living in rural and medically underserved areas of the state.

“Everyone wants to improve patient care. But if we don’t take a systematic approach to addressing health problems in South Carolina, then we’ll only make incremental progress,” Turley says. “The health situation in South Carolina is so poor that an incremented approach means we will lag for generations. The University of South Carolina is positioned to provide leadership for the state, so we can make the big steps to improve health for future generations.”

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