The Institute for Aging Research (IFAR) is one of the few research institutions in the country translating clinical and health services research discoveries into interventions that improve the experience of aging.
“Most advances in medicine come from clinical trials,” says Susan Mitchell, M.D., M.P.H., senior scientist and director of Palliative Care Research at IFAR. “But many of the interventions that we are examining can be more complex than testing a pill,” she explains.
“This is a special niche that we have developed here at IFAR,” says Dr. Mitchell. “For example, one of our trials involves studying whether an educational video platform can improve nursing home care for patients. The clinical trial is testing whether showing a short video about advance care planning to families can help them make better treatment choices for their loved ones.”
To make it easier for researchers to follow all the necessary steps involved in a clinical trial, Dr. Mitchell and Thomas Travison, Ph.D., director of Biostatistics at IFAR, have launched a unique website and consultancy – the Interventional Studies in Aging Center (ISAC). The website, which includes a Clinical Trials Toolkit, was created to help researchers design and test therapies or behavioral changes.
For clinical trials to be successful, there has to be careful planning and documentation of design if the results are to be valid and useful. Clinical trials test new medicines, devices, and also interventional behaviors, such as tai chi’s ability to improve a person’s balance, which is being studied now at IFAR.
“The whole point of ISAC is to help the researcher from soup to nuts – all the way from writing the grant, executing it, and publishing it,” says Dr. Travison. “Guidance on the website includes links to where you have to go. We also have a living textbook on the site, with helpful information on things like how you design your research so it’s not in danger of being invalid.”
As co-directors of the ISAC team, Drs. Mitchell and Travison are also important resources for researchers themselves to find potential collaborators and support.
“There is a gap of people doing this type of interventional research on vulnerable older adults,” adds Dr. Mitchell. “We are filling a huge need by providing a web-based toolkit, which will hopefully facilitate and encourage IFAR faculty and researchers from other institutions to do more intervention trials in this population.”
“In addition, we provide access to IFAR researchers who can act as consultants or collaborators,” adds Dr. Travison. “This includes individuals with expertise in trials methodology, experimental design, regulatory science, and project management. These are important components of research.”
“We want to leverage the skill we have here in making these clinical trials happen to help other investigators,” says Dr. Mitchell. “This is research that helps people. We want to enable more high-quality studies that will help make healthy aging a reality for everyone.”