A key mission of Dartmouth SYNERGY, the Dartmouth Clinical and Translational Science Institute, is to foster discovery and innovation in translational and clinical research.
Clinical research is designed for direct advancement of patient care; it often involves testing a drug to see how effective it is in treating a certain disorder and comparing that drug to another drug or a placebo. Translational research is further upstream in biomedical research. “You’re trying to ask a question about a disease or how a drug may work and you have a hypothesis you wish to test that may be more relevant to the disease or its particular biology,” says William Rigby, MD, director of the SYNERGY CRU. Translational research is work that is steered towards developing new treatments for a disease.
SYNERGY has grown rapidly since it was first launched in 2010. A major part of its funding is through a highly competitive Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA), received by Dartmouth in 2013. SYNERGY helps scientific researchers at Dartmouth find the tools they need to advance their research and to translate their discoveries into clinical practice and improved population health. SYNERGY also takes ideas from advances in public health and develops them further in basic science research, moving ideas from the community back to the laboratory.
SYNERGY offers a wealth of resources from across Dartmouth (including Geisel and Thayer) and Dartmouth-Hitchcock to scientists focused on clinical and translational research. These include support with biostatistics methods to help design studies and plan data collection; bioinformatics tools to help with data integration and management; services of the Clinical Research Unit and Clinical Trials Office; tools at Dartmouth to help with recruitment and retention in clinical studies; and advice from research ethics faculty who can consult on ethical issues such as outreach to vulnerable populations, end-of-life research, and genetic testing.
Just one year into its CTSA grant, SYNERGY is planning to expand by developing a clinical research unit in southern New Hampshire so that researchers can work in both the Lebanon and Manchester, N.H., areas. Ensuring the safety and satisfaction of patients and investigators is also crucial, according to Sheila Noone, PhD, executive director of SYNERGY; she and her team are developing and implementing surveys to address safety and satisfaction.
Volunteer patients in clinical trials with SYNERGY are “partners in research,” says Alan Green, MD, principal investigator and director of SYNERGY and chair of psychiatry at Geisel. “Their benefit is not only helping society at large to come up with better treatments, but presumably you’re going to help yourself. Even with a double-blind trial, our obligation is to provide the best kind of care we can. These are people who deserve our best care.”