News Release: Research

May 6,  2011

Predictive Health and Comparative Effectiveness Research: A Successful Union in Academic Medicine

Emory Center for Health Discovery and Well Being Focuses on Health, Rather Than Absence of Disease

The “next-next” transformation in health care will integrate biology, the environment, and behavior to focus not just on the absence of disease, but on health itself, say researchers in a new Center for Health Discovery and Well Being at Emory University.

An article currently online in the journal Academic Medicine and slated for the June print issue states that academic health centers are in the best position to help fundamentally change our current health care system through expertise in sociology, economics, ethics, and psychology, in addition to medicine and public health.

“It’s clear that our current model for delivering health care is not sustainable,” says Kenneth Brigham, MD, director of the Emory/Georgia Tech Predictive Health Institute and one of the paper’s authors. “Diverse teams within academic health centers have the unique skills to develop a whole new paradigm of health, by developing health interventions and also leading in comparative effectiveness research – the assessment of alternative interventions and strategies to improve health.”

As an example of how academic health centers can integrate prevention with health research, Emory established its Center for Health Discovery and Well Being in 2008 as part of a university-wide strategic theme of predictive health and society. The Center joins health-focused research to health promotion, patient education and clinical care, while developing and validating novel and generic biomarkers that predict health, disease risk and prognosis.

The Center is “a practical test of the concept of preventive care for healthy participants as well as an opportunity to develop a unique database and tissue repository for future investigations,” the authors write.

The Center’s work is based on the hypothesis that deviations from generic biologic processes indicate a loss of overall health that may not be specific to a particular disease. Its faculty and staff integrate individual and population-based approaches to health through partnerships with Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Center has developed a cohort of approximately 600 people who participate in health education and prevention, but who are also a part of research studies in predictive health and comparative effectiveness. The Center conducts initial screenings of participants and collects biomedical and health status data, followed by lifestyle and educational interventions with the help of a health partner and six-month, one-year, and two-year evaluations.

Emory faculty members may access blinded data from participants for research purposes.

“The Center’s cohort is ideal for doing comparative effectiveness research that tests and validates predictive models for changes in health,” says Kimberly Rask, MD, PhD, lead author of the paper and an associate professor in Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health. More than 15 projects have been initiated thus far using data from participants.

Examples of research studies include mental health status in predicting inflammatory biomarker levels, comparison of the intestinal microbiome in lean versus obese adults who are otherwise healthy, and predicting the economic value of preventive interventions.

“The Center provides a unique opportunity to evaluate the cost effectiveness of earlier prevention and lifestyle interventions on health,” says Michael M.E. Johns, MD, Emory University chancellor and an author of the paper. “Researchers can compare changes in health behaviors to changes in biological processes, such as oxidative stress or cardiovascular functions.”

“We believe the work of the Center for Health Discovery and Well Being confirms that academic health centers can play a critical role in translating research discoveries into practical clinical applications that can improve health and also contribute to overall scientific knowledge,” says Rask.

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