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The Cutting Edge - Leveling the logistical hurdles of research

Cutting Edge Winter 2012

Leveling the logistical hurdles of research

Date: January 1, 2012

Timothy Pawlik and Adil Haider are heading the Center for Surgical Trials and Outcomes Research, a program to help investigators share ideas and resources.
Timothy Pawlik and Adil Haider are heading the Center for Surgical Trials and Outcomes Research, a program to help investigators share ideas and resources.

One of the biggest obstacles that prevents scientists from embarking on clinical trials and outcomes research is obtaining sufficient funding. Figuring out where to start and how, once those coveted dollars are won, comes a close second.

Faculty members—particularly young researchers, for instance—might have great ideas. But without a firm grasp on where to begin and how to gather the resources needed to proceed, ideas are all they have.

When they first start out their research careers, says trauma surgeon Adil Haider, “young investigators especially may find themselves spinning their wheels” trying to learn about the logistics of conducting a study. Meanwhile, in an institution as large as Johns Hopkins—where knowledge can be as spread out and scattered as it is abundant—it’s not unheard of for a scientific investigator to embark on a study, completely unaware that around the corner is a surgeon, endocrinologist, pediatrician, nurse or radiologist with years of relevant knowledge and reams of relevant data.

This is where the Center for Surgical Trials and Outcomes Research (CSTOR) comes in. Introduced about two years ago, CSTOR is the brainchild of Department of Surgery Director Julie Freischlag. She envisioned, Haider says, a program that could bring together the wealth of knowledge, resources and manpower intrinsic to Hopkins so that faculty members could have the help they need to launch their studies. To lead the center, she appointed Haider and hepatobiliary and pancreatic surgeon Timothy Pawlik. Both have extensive experience in starting and conducting the kinds of research that CSTOR aims to promote and assist.

“This is something new and relatively novel, both at Hopkins and across the country,” Pawlik says. “The idea was to create a centralized hub of expertise and resources, that faculty can easily access to conduct research. We have people who can help with budgeting and regulatory issues, as well as research nurses and assistants who can help run trials and recruit patients.”        

Outcomes research is another crucial component of the program’s mission. “Some faculty members want to do research using large data sets,” Pawlik says, “and there are individuals in CSTOR who can help organize and analyze that data, and, as a result, help facilitate robust outcomes research.”

The center also offers a central holding ground for the data, which doesn’t come cheap. The large data sets used by faculty members often have to be purchased and stored on pricey computers. Before CSTOR, there was no structured way to track who already had which data set, meaning that the same set could be purchased multiple times—a waste of precious dollars on information already available through another faculty member. “Now,” says Haider, “CSTOR buys one big computer and one big dataset that faculty can share. It allows for a lot of cost savings, and it’s very effective because there’s also a lot of institutional knowledge that can be passed around.”

Through CSTOR, Haider and Pawlik are interested in improving surgical outcomes research in a way that will directly affect patient care. “We are trying to take surgical research to a new level so we can improve the outcomes and lives of the patients we interact with,” Haider says. “That’s our ultimate goal.” 

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